Federal law lets you get a free credit report at least once every 12 months from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Using the government-mandated AnnualCreditReport.com website is the quickest way, but you can also request them by phone or mail.
In between those annual checks, it’s wise to watch your credit for changes to guard against errors and identity theft. NerdWallet offers a free credit report and credit score you can check whenever you like, and your information is updated weekly.
Here’s how, when and why to use AnnualCreditReport.com.
How to get your free credit report
1. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com
First, make sure you’re on the right site; some have similar-sounding names. The one you want looks like this:
2. Enter your personal information
You’ll need your name, Social Security number, address and birthdate. This, along with other personal data, will be matched against files for identification.
3. Request a credit report or reports
You can order your reports from one, two or all three of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
4. Successfully answer security questions
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 can’t recall those details, you can request your reports by mail or phone; this process doesn’t require security questions.
5. Generate your credit report online
You can save reports to your desktop or print them out so you’ll have access later.
If you need to request a report or reports by mail, send a request form to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Your report or reports should be sent within 15 business days.
You can also get your credit reports by calling 877-322-8228. Visually impaired consumers can also call this number to request audio, large-print or Braille reports.
Monitor your credit regularly
It’s smart to check all three reports at least annually, because they may have slightly different data. Changes you don’t expect or did not authorize can tip you off to a mistake or to identity theft, so checking even more often can be smart.
After you’ve taken advantage of your annual freebies, use a personal finance site for frequent, ongoing credit monitoring.
Monitoring your scores and reports can tip you off to problems such as an overlooked payment or identity theft. It also lets you track progress on building your credit. NerdWallet offers both a free credit report summary and a credit score, updated weekly.
Here’s how the information you’ll get from AnnualCreditReport.com differs from what free personal finance sites may provide:
- Reports (not scores)
- One free report per 12-month period
- Data from all three major credit bureaus
- An extensive history of your credit use
Personal finance websites, including NerdWallet, provide:
- Credit scores but not full reports
- Unlimited access
- Data from one or two credit bureaus
- A recent history of your credit use
It is not the same thing as a credit score. A credit score is derived from a formula using some of the information in your credit 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.
- 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
“Just get your free credit report. Don’t get suckered by the upsell,” says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
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.
- You get turned down for credit, insurance or a job because of your credit, or face less favorable terms, such as a higher 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 like NerdWallet or information from your financial institution to keep an eye on your credit.