Want to see the raw materials that go into your credit scores? Federal law gives you that right.
You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies every 12 months. Credit reports aren’t the same as credit scores, and your scores won’t appear on your reports. But reports do show past credit activity — and that’s what determines your scores.
The government-mandated AnnualCreditReport.com website is the quickest way to request reports, but you can also do so by phone or mail. Here’s when and how to use AnnualCreditReport.com.
What you get from AnnualCreditReport.com
Your creditors regularly report your account information, including payments, credit applications, the amount of available credit you’re using and negative marks such as collections. The three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — build that data into reports that you can get from AnnualCreditReport.com.
But you can also get a free credit score — and sometimes free credit report information — from personal finance websites and some financial institutions. NerdWallet offers both a free credit report and a credit score.
Here’s how the information you’ll get from AnnualCreditReport.com differs from what other sites provide:
|AnnualCreditReport||Personal finance site or financial institution|
|What do you get?||
|How often can you access your info? Does it hurt your credit score?||
|What is the data source?||
|How much information do you get, and what's it best for?||
When to use which type of site
Get all three credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com if:
- You’ve never done so before
- It’s been at least a year since you’ve done so
- You’re about to apply for a large loan, such as a mortgage
Using AnnualCreditReport.com puts you in a good position to do an in-depth review. Some creditors don’t send information to all the bureaus, so your reports might differ. You want to make sure all three are correct.
After you’ve taken advantage of your annual freebies, use another site for frequent, ongoing credit monitoring. Look for one that offers both a free credit score and free credit report information.
Frequently checking your score and new information arriving on your report can tip you off to problems such as an overlooked payment or identity theft. It also lets you track progress on building your credit.
How to get your reports from AnnualCreditReport.com
First, make sure you’re on the right site; some have similar-sounding names. The one you want looks like this:
You’ll have to enter your name, address (and a previous address if you’ve lived at your current one for less than two years), Social Security number and birthdate. Then you’ll choose the bureau or bureaus from which you want reports by checking the boxes.
For each report request, you’ll be asked a few questions about your finances that presumably only you can answer — for instance, the approximate amount of your mortgage payment or who holds your auto loan and when you took it out.
Some consumers have reported difficulty using the site, particularly answering security questions about accounts that are several years old. If you have trouble, you can file a complaint. A Consumer Financial Protection database shows nearly 400 in the first quarter of 2017. You can also request your reports by mail or phone; this process doesn’t require security questions. Reports will be sent within 15 days of receiving the request.
Mail a request form to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Or call 877-322-8228. Visually impaired consumers can also call this number to request audio, large-print or Braille format reports.
What to look for on your reports
If you used the online portal to access your reports, we suggest saving them as PDFs or printing them out. Once you have them, read over them for mistakes.
Be on the lookout for:
- Accounts that aren’t yours or you didn’t authorize
- Incorrect, negative information
- Negative information that’s too old to be included. Most information, other than bankruptcies, falls off after seven years.
These errors have the potential to hurt your credit score, says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. You might see other types of errors, such as out-of-date employment information, she says, but those aren’t factored into your score.
If you find errors, dispute them. Credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate and must remove information that they can’t verify.
What to watch out for on AnnualCreditReport.com
Your annual credit reports are free, but credit bureaus also use the AnnualCreditReport.com site to sell credit scores and promote paid services, such as credit monitoring.
“Just get your free credit report. Don’t get suckered by the upsell,” says consumer activist Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Groups.
You can regularly monitor your reports yourself using a free site like NerdWallet.
And Mierzwinski adds that credit monitoring doesn’t keep your identity from being stolen; it just alerts you after the fact. For a higher level of protection, both Mierzwinski and Wu recommend a credit freeze. You won’t be able to apply for credit on impulse, such as opening a store card to save instantly on purchases, but no one else can open credit in your name, either. You might also consider protecting your information with a fraud alert.
Other times you may get free reports
Federal law grants additional free reports from the bureaus in some instances:
- You get turned down for credit, insurance or a job because of your credit, or face less favorable terms, such as a high interest rate. You’ll receive an adverse action notice and the chance to apply for reports.
- You place a fraud alert on your credit
- You’re unemployed and job-seeking, or are on public assistance
Make the requests to the bureaus directly in these cases.
Whenever you request your reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, note the date so you know when your next freebie will be available. Until then, use a personal finance website or information from your financial institution to keep an eye on your credit.