Advertiser Disclosure

How to Use

Review a free, complete report every 12 months from each credit bureau through In between, keep tabs with a free service.
Credit Score, Personal Finance
With so many websites offering free financial tools, it can be hard to know whom to trust. At NerdWallet, we thoroughly research financial products and companies, and adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to find you the best choices. We even share how we make money so you can rely on our expert advice and recommendations with clarity and confidence.

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 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

What you get from

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

But you can also get a free credit score — and sometimes free credit report information — from personal finance websites and some financial institutions. Using one of the sources lets you frequently check your credit, an important way to quickly spot signs of trouble. NerdWallet offers both a free credit report and a credit score, updated weekly.

Here’s how the information you’ll get from differs from what other sites provide:

 AnnualCreditReportPersonal finance site or financial institution
What do you get?
  • Credit reports
  • Limited supporting information, some links to additional help
  • Credit score and sometimes credit report information
  • Often articles, tips and tools for building credit and tracking progress
How often can you access your info? Does it hurt your credit score?
  • One free report from each bureau every 12 months
  • Doesn't affect your score
  • As often as you like
  • Choose a free site that doesn't ask for your credit card and verify how often it updates data; sites vary from weekly to quarterly
  • Doesn't affect your score
What is the data source?
  • All three major credit bureaus
  • Usually only one bureau, sometimes two
How much information do you get, and what's it best for?
  • Extensive history of your credit use
  • Useful if you've never checked your credit before or need to review info from several years
  • Recent credit history
  • Useful for ongoing monitoring and tracking credit-building progress

When to use which type of site

Get all three credit reports from 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 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.

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

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

Your annual credit reports are free, but credit bureaus also use the 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.

Just get your free credit report. Don’t get suckered by the upsell.

Ed Mierzwinski, 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, 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.

About the author