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Editor's note: As of March 2, 2021, the three major credit bureaus have extended weekly access to free credit reports through April 2022.
The three major credit-reporting agencies announced Monday that consumers can get free weekly credit reports from now through April 2021.
That’s a very big deal for Americans worried about what economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic will do to their credit. And it’s in contrast to the basic once-a-year access previously granted by Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
"Right now the law gives us the right to one per every 12-month period," said credit expert John Ulzheimer, who applauded the move.
"That may have made sense in 2003 when that went into effect, but it doesn't really make sense in 2020," he said in an email. "This move by the credit bureaus is a great idea because we really should be checking our credit reports once every statement cycle, which is basically once a month."
What you get — and some tips
The freebies aren't credit scores, but rather credit reports. Your credit reports contain the data that scoring companies FICO and VantageScore use to come up with credit scores. Reports show the building blocks that go into your scores, which provides more insight than simply seeing a number.
To get your reports, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. Enter your full name, address, Social Security number and birthdate. The page has been updated to reflect the new weekly reports, but users may encounter problems due to high volume. If you have trouble, use the "contact us" link on the page to report it.
You can also request your reports by mail, using a form available on the site; click on "All about credit reports" and "Getting your credit reports." Or call 877-322-8228.
Be prepared to answer questions about your finances to verify your identity. You might want to have records handy, such as bank and credit card statements.
Know that each credit bureau’s interface and report will look different from the others.
Be prepared for an upsell. The three bureaus will offer access to your credit scores, usually via a paid subscription. But you can get your credit scores for free from many personal finance websites and some banks and credit card issuers.
Be aware that printing your full credit report will use a lot of paper. Look for an option to download and save it as a PDF.
For the next report, click "Get your next report or finish." As of midday Monday, the final onscreen message and other references still mention one free report every 12 months; that should update soon, but know that access is now weekly.
How to use your credit reports
Read through your reports, looking for potential trouble spots. Be aware that some accounts may not show up on all three reports; it depends on how creditors report data.
Here’s what to look for:
Accounts with payment modifications: Make sure that any accommodations are being reported as agreed. If your account was in good standing going into the agreement and you are holding up your end, your accounts should still be reported as "current."
Signs of fraud or identity theft: Errors that suggest identity theft include addresses where you’ve never lived or accounts you’ve never opened.
Errors that may lower your score: Potentially score-lowering errors would be along the lines of an account being reported late when it wasn't or an incorrectly reported account balance. Others might not affect your score, such as a misspelling.
Ulzheimer, who has worked at credit scoring company FICO and credit bureau Equifax, says he goes after errors regardless of size. "All errors are worth disputing," he says. "Some are cosmetic so they won't result in a better score, but I like the idea of having fully accurate credit reports even if it means correcting an address or the spelling of a former name."
If you see a problem
The weekly reports mean you can catch a mistake almost as soon as it’s made and dispute it so that your credit report gets corrected. Credit bureaus usually have 30 days to investigate, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently issued guidance giving them 45 days.
If you spot an error in how an account is reported, file a dispute with each bureau that shows it.
If you see signs of identity theft, report it at IdentityTheft.gov and consider placing a freeze or fraud alert on your credit.