How to obtain your credit reports for free
There are many websites offering “free” credit reports. However, most of these sites prove true the old adage, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” You either have to give up your right to the privacy of your credit information or remember to cancel the “credit monitoring subscription” before your credit card is charged. Luckily, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that each of the “big three” credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union – provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months upon request (and at other times too, but more on that later).
How to Obtain a Credit Report for Free
The “big three” have set up a central website, toll-free number, and mailing address to use in requesting your reports. The website, number, and mailing address are operated by a company called Central Source, LLC (“Central Source”), which was set up by the “big three.” Obtain your credit reports from the “big three” by one of the following methods:
- Visit www.annualcreditreport.com
- Call 1-877-322-8228
- Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Here is a link to the form: Annual Credit Report Request Form
There is no charge for obtaining your reports through Central Source, and the online access is usually instant. The requests by telephone and mail move quickly as well. You will receive three reports – one from each of the “big three” credit reporting companies. If you access the reports online, make sure to download a copy of each report for your records.
In addition to yearly access, the Fair Credit Reporting Act also requires the “big three” to provide your reports free of charge in other situations:
- If you are adversely affected by a credit report when applying for credit, insurance, or employment, you have the right to request your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the adverse action
- If you are unemployed and intend to look for a job within 60 days, are on welfare, or if you have inaccuracies on your report because of fraud (identity theft, for example), you are allowed one additional free report a year.
The “free” reports from other sources often leave out important information, fail to include all the information provided by the “big three,” and are difficult to read. For consumers, the reports requested from Central Source are generally the most complete and comprehensive picture of information reported by the “big three.”
If you discover an error on your credit report, you should send a written dispute to the credit reporting company with a copy to the business who provided the inaccurate or mistaken information. I recommend staying away from telephonic and online disputes – maintaining a written record of your actions is important. How to write your dispute could probably be the subject of a small book, so I’ll leave that for another day. I will suggest three words to keep in mind when making dispute(s) – proof, detail, and clarity. Prove the inaccuracy by providing supporting documentation for your position. Include as much detail as possible to support your dispute – how and why is the information wrong – the more the better. Be clear about why the information is inaccurate.
If you have errors on your credit report or background check, please contact me, and I’ll see if I can help.