Each year, every American is entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. They also have the option to purchase credit reports throughout the year. But is there ever any reason to pay for a credit report when you can get it for free once a year? Perhaps.
How do I get my free credit reports?
You can get your three free credit reports each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. All you have to do is enter your personal information, answer a few identity verification questions and choose which credit reports you want to view. The process of pulling credit reports is very simple, the hard part comes in reading them over for the important data.
We’ve made that easier with an entire guide on how to read your credit report. The most important thing: Make sure any negative items are accurate. Otherwise, they’re needlessly hurting your credit score.
Should I ever pay for credit reports when I can get them for free?
In general, no, you shouldn’t buy credit reports. However, there is a special circumstance where it may make sense to buy an extra report or two:
You have reason to believe there’s a mistake on it. If you’re inexplicably getting rejected for credit cards or loans and you thought you had good credit, there may be a mistake or negative item on your credit report. You could wait until it’s time to pull your annual reports, but then you wouldn’t be able to apply for new credit or get your mistake fixed until you do so.
Is there a better alternative to paying for credit reports?
There may be a better option, but it will depend on whether or not your credit activity is reported to all three credit reporting agencies. By staggering your credit reports — or pulling one of the three every four months — you can get a snapshot of your credit health three times a year. Of course, if your creditors aren’t reporting to all three agencies — which isn’t necessarily common, but still happens — this plan won’t work and you’ll need to purchase reports to figure out the problem.
I want to buy my reports — how do I do that?
You can purchase your reports from each of the three agencies directly:
Bottom line: With access to your three credit reports for free each year, you shouldn’t generally pay for them. The only exception is when you believe there may be a mistake on your reports that’s negatively affecting your credit — you may have been rejected for a loan or credit card, when you’ve practiced responsible credit behavior. To avoid buying, you can stagger your reports, but this only works if your reports all contain the same data. If they don’t, you can purchase your reports from the individual reporting agencies.
Woman with credit card image via Shutterstock