If you want to manage your finances and be prepared to apply for a loan, buy a car, get a mortgage, or sign up for insurance, you will need a copy of your credit report. There are three big credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) and lenders, insurance companies and landlords, contract with them to provide credit reports so they can make sound decisions about your creditworthiness. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that each agency supply you with a free copy of your credit report each year. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees the credit reporting agencies and enforces the FCRA.
Why do You Need a Copy of Your Free Annual Credit Report?
A credit report is necessary whenever you apply for credit, insurance, or try to lease a piece of property. Your credit report is a history of all your loans, debts, and mortgages over the past ten years. It shows how well you pay your bills and if you ever filed for bankruptcy. It’s critical that the information contained in your credit report be correct.
More than two million people claim theirs have serious errors. Each year you should get a copy from all three credit reporting agencies because they all get information from different sources. Scour each one for inaccuracies and contact them to correct any oversights before you apply for a new loan or mortgage. Another reason for getting a copy is to check for and protect yourself against identity theft. If you see accounts, you don’t recognize; someone may have stolen your identity.
Another way to safeguard your credit report is to sign up with a company like IDStrong.com to provide credit monitoring to keep an eye on things for you.
Where to Get Free Credit Report
There is only one website authorized by the FTC to supply consumers with a copy of their credit report. The name of the site is annualcreditreport.com. The three major credit bureaus established this service to make things easy for them and their customers. You can also call 1-877-322-8228 to order a copy. You may also download the Free Annual Credit Report Request Form and then mail it to:
Free Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
The FTC recommends not contacting each credit reporting agency separately to get a copy but instead use one of the methods above. They also warn against falling for “imposter websites” that promise free copies of your credit report or free credit scores. These are most likely scams or attempts at phishing, which may result in your computer being hacked or worse. Watch out for URLs that are close to the real web address but slightly different.
When contacting annualcreditreport.com, you will need your name, address, social security number, and date of birth. If your current address is less than two years old, you will need to provide your previous address as well. You will also be asked to supply identity verification, such as details about a current loan or mortgage.
You should order a copy from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Each one calculates your score slightly different and purchases information from different places. Therefore, you may find errors, or it may just be different information. The FTC recommends staggering your requests from each agency to give you options in terms of timing with financing.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Copy of Your Free Annual Credit Report?
Depending on how you order your copy, will determine how long it takes to receive it. If you use the online services, you should be able to access it immediately. If you order by phone or mail, a copy will be mailed to you within 15 days. If they have trouble verifying your identity, it could take longer.
Are There Other Situations Where I Can Get a Free Credit Report?
There are also some other situations where you can get a free copy of your credit report. The most important one is if you are denied credit, such as when applying for a mortgage or loan. You have 60-days after receiving notice of the denial to get a free copy. The notice you receive will mention the credit reporting agency you need to contact for your free credit report.
You can also contact any of the agencies and purchase a copy below at any time:
Experian: 1-888-397-3742; Experian.com
TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800; Transunion.com
What to do If There are Errors on Your Free Annual Credit Report?
According to the FCRA, both the company that provided the information to the credit bureau and the credit reporting agency must correct all errors on your report upon being notified of them.
Contact them in writing and, if possible, provide documentation for your case.
The credit reporting agency will initiate an investigation within 30 days to verify the accuracy of your claim.
The credit bureau must forward all the information to you that they find.
If they find you are correct, they must contact the other two agencies so they can update their files as well.
The credit bureau must also notify you in writing of the final result.
You should also contact the information provider (the credit card or lender who gave the incorrect information to the credit bureau) and make sure they update their records as well.
If the provider or credit bureau does not correct the issue, ask that a dispute letter be added to the file. The credit reporting bureau must provide a copy of your dispute letter to any potential lenders. You can also file a claim with the FTC if you cannot get satisfaction. Since information can stay on your credit report for up to ten years, you will want to make sure yours is as accurate as possible.