How to Get a Truly Free Credit Report
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The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) entitles every American to a free credit report each year.
So, how do you get your free credit report? Should you go to GoFreeCredit.com or some other site with a catchy jingle?
Nope. There's a better way. Your truly free credit report comes from AnnualCreditReport.com. (See also: 10 Surprising Ways to Negatively Affect Your Credit Score)
How Do Those "Free" Credit Report Sites Work?
Chances are that you have seen a commercial on TV or a clever ad on the Internet directing you to check your free credit report by visiting a specific website — usually something with the words "free" and "credit" in the URL.
Technically, your credit report is free, but you often have to provide your credit card before accessing your credit report. This is because your "free" credit report is a "reward" for signing up for some sort of credit monitoring service or some other credit-related product.
In many cases, your sign up is treated as a "free trial." You provide your credit card number and agree to a 7-day or 14-day free trial. At the end of that time period, if you haven't canceled, then your card is charged the regular fee for the product. The company hopes that you will forget about canceling your trial, and that you will allow your card to be charged.
Another variation of this type of product is that receiving your free credit report is contingent upon signing up for credit services that alert you to negative items on your credit report and then automatically dispute them. These programs charge your credit card only when a dispute is lodged with the credit reporting agency. However, any negative item is often disputed. Unfortunately, if the negative item is accurate, it won't be removed from your report. So you might end up paying for a useless dispute.
What About Free Consumer Credit Sites?
Another way to access your free credit report is to make use of free consumer credit sites. These are sites like Credit Sesame, Quizzle, and Credit Karma that provide you with some consumer credit information for free.
Sesame and Quizzle are associated with Experian, so you can get a look at your Experian credit report free of charge with these sites. You can review items on your TransUnion credit report when you sign up with Credit Karma.
These consumer credit web sites don't ask for your credit card information, and you won't be charged for looking at information related to your credit. However, the information might not be updated as frequently as you would like, and you are limited as to what information you receive — and you won't get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. You only receive information that is on the report compiled by the sponsoring credit agency.
Consumer credit sites make money by providing leads to financial product providers. So, while you aren't charged directly by the site for viewing your credit information, these are still portals designed to make money for the credit agency. If you click on an ad for a new credit card, or indicate that you are looking to refinance, the consumer credit site gets a kickback if you go through with your transaction.
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for Your "Official" Free Credit Report
If you want an "official" credit report free of charge, your best bet is to visit AnnualCreditReport.com. This site is maintained by the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) in accordance with the FCRA. Using this portal, you can get one free credit report from each of the bureaus every year.
You don't have to enter any credit card information, and your information isn't used to try to sell you other financial products and services. It's fairly easy to get your credit report.
- Select the state you live in from a drop down menu, and then click the "Request Report" button.
- Fill in the identifying information on the form. This information includes your name, birth date, Social Security number, current address, and a previous address if you haven't been at your current address for at least two years. Fill in the CAPTCHA, and you're on your way.
- Choose which credit report you would like to view. You will be taken to the site of the credit bureau providing the report. You might have to answer additional identifying questions before viewing your credit report.
- When you are done, you have the option to return to AnnualCreditReport.com and select another credit report.
Stagger Reports for Free Credit Monitoring
Some consumers prefer to receive their free credit reports individually, rather than all three at once. It's possible to decide to get a different report from a different agency every four months. This way, you can monitor your credit situation without having to pay the "reasonable" fee that you can be charged to view your credit report if you have already seen your free report for the year.
While this can be an attractive tactic, it's important to understand that the three credit bureaus don't always have all of the same information. So information that is accurate on one of your credit reports might have a mistake on another report. On top of that, one credit bureau might have record of a fraudulent account, while another agency might not have the information.
How Else Can You Get a Truly Free Credit Report?
Finally, you can get a free credit report if you have a negative outcome on a credit application. If you are denied credit, or if you are ineligible for the best interest rate on a loan, you are entitled to a free credit report. You are also entitled to a free credit report if the information used results in a higher insurance premium.
However, you can only get the report used by the creditor or other financial services provider to make the decision. So, if an insurer pulled your Experian report and decided to give you a higher premium, you will only be entitled to the Experian report. You have to send the credit agency in question a request for your report in writing within 60 days of the negative action to receive your report.
There's no reason to pay for extra services through a "free" credit report site with a catchy jingle and fine print requirements. You are entitled to one free report from each of the bureaus every year. On top of that, it's also possible to pay between $7 and $15 for a credit report if you have already exhausted your supply of free reports.
There's no reason to sign up for a "free trial" that turns into a credit black hole.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.