As a smart consumer, you have likely heard that it’s a good idea to get your credit report every year from all three services: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You’ve probably also seen the ever-present “Free Credit Report” commercials on the television (unless you TiVo everything and skip past the commercials!) – so you may be wondering: is that the place to go to get the credit reports?
While the service in the commercials will likely provide you with the reports you need, since that service is a “for profit” venture, you’re also likely to get more than you bargained for along with your reports. There are a lot of add-ons that can mysteriously show up, like hidden fees, credit score monitoring, identity theft protection, etc., all of dubious benefit.
The Real Answer
The ONLY authorized source for requesting your credit reports from all three agencies FOR FREE, with no strings attached, is at www.AnnualCreditReport.com
. This source was set up jointly by the three credit reporting agencies in response to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Via this service, which can also be contacted by phone at 877-322-8228, or by mail (see the website for the form and address), you are allowed to request your credit report from each agency once every 12 months at no cost.
I have found that the mail option, while decidedly low-tech, is the most pain-free option. Navigating the online system can get a bit frustrating, especially if you’ve changed addresses somewhat frequently within the previous ten years, since mailing address is one of the important identifying factors. Unless the system has greatly improved of late, it can cause you some grief. I have to admit that it has been a few years since I tried to utilize the online order option, though.
The report you receive will be very detailed regarding your credit history, payment history, and any actions taken with regard to your credit. It is important to review this information to ensure that it is accurate – if any errors are located, you need to work out resolving those errors with the credit agency and the creditor in question.
You will not, as a rule, receive your credit score when you make this request for your credit report. The credit score is a separate mathematical ranking of your credit, and this can be purchased from the agencies for a small fee (typically less than $20) when you make your request for the credit report. If you’re concerned about your score and have not had reason to receive your score in another fashion (such as getting a mortgage), it might make sense to do so, but it’s not a requirement by any means.
Timing of Your Request
Since you have three agencies to work with and 12 months between reports, you have a decision to make: should you request all three at the same time, or intersperse them throughout the year?
I suppose it really comes down to your situation – if you have a potential credit problem to resolve, I’d suggest getting all three at once, then you can compare them side-by-side as you work out any problems or inconsistencies.
On the other hand if you’re just in a maintenance mode, that is, you don’t anticipate any issues with the report, you might want to set up a schedule and request a report from a different agency every four months. This way you can constantly monitor your credit to ensure that nothing funky is going on.
Just make sure that you use www.AnnualCreditReport.com
, rather than the other, more publicized options. You’ll be glad you did.
Photo by Don Hankins