If you are considering subscribing to an online credit reporting service so that you will have access to your credit report, it may not be necessary. You can get your free credit report from the major credit bureaus without having to use a third-party service at all.
You Have a Right to Your Credit Report Under the FCRA
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, is administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). One of the provisions of that law is that the three major credit repositories – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. But in order to get it, you have to specifically request it.
This is an excellent idea because not only will the credit reports be free of charge, but they also provide a wealth of information that is available about you personally, and particularly in regard to your credit profile and even legal status.
A credit report not only reflects your payment history with various creditors, but it can also reveal errors in your credit report. It also shows address and employment information, that you should check for accuracy. This is another way that you may be able to determine that someone else is using your identity in order to apply for credit, employment, or even housing.
Your credit report also provides a snapshot of any public records that may exist in connection with your name. You want to check this at least annually to make sure that there are no errors here. For example, a judgment mistakenly reported against you can have a major negative impact on your credit score. Having access to your credit report on a regular basis is usually the most efficient way to know if this is the case.
Where and How to Get Your Free Credit Report
Fortunately, you don’t need to contact each of the major credit repositories individually in order to get a copy of your free report. All three repositories make your credit report available through a website called AnnualCreditReport.com. You can simply go to that site and order all three reports directly. The site is authorized under FCRA to provide this information.
You can also call AnnualCreditReports.com at 1-877-322-8228 in order to obtain copies of all three reports. Alternatively, you can also requested them by mail at the following address:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
You don’t even have to write a letter requesting the reports. You can simply download the one page request form at Annual Credit Report Request Form. Complete the form, and mail it to the address above and you’ll have all three reports in short order.
You May Not Need a Third Party Service Provider
There are quite literally dozens of third party providers that will offer you access to your credit reports – free or otherwise. One of the advantages to using these sites is that some of them offer either updated monthly credit reports, or even continuous access to your credit report every time it’s updated.
Even if you have to pay a fee for the service, it may be money well spent if you’re trying to improve your credit and need to monitor your credit reports to track your progress.
However, there are downsides to subscribing to third party credit report providers that you should be aware of:
- Many third party providers don’t provide your actual credit report, but a simulation based on your actual credit report
- Most are based on no more than one out of the three credit repositories, which means that the information they provide is not complete
- Some services are free, but most aren’t – they typically charge $20 per month, which means that you’ll be paying $240 per year to access your credit report
- Most of them will bombard you with additional offers
- Some of the third party credit report services are outright scams, that will take your credit card information and bill you on a monthly basis, but provide a service that is highly questionable
If you’re just looking to casually monitor your credit, then go with the truly free version through AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s the only one that’s actually authorized by the FTC to provide reports.
Stagger the Frequency of the Reports Over the Course of the Year -Maybe
One of the limitations of a free annual credit is of course that you can only see it once each year. But there is a bit of a workaround on this that will increase your frequency.
Since there are three credit repositories, you can stagger the dates you will receive a report from each. By setting the dates four months apart, you’ll get three reports per year, at four-month intervals. I’m not 100% convinced this is the way to go. Here’s why.
Each credit repository has at least slightly different information in regard to your credit. For example, a delinquency may appear on TransUnion that does not show up on Experian or Equifax. The fact that the delinquency does not show up on an Experian report four months after receiving the TransUnion report, doesn’t mean that it’s been settled in your favor. It just means that the delinquency was not reported through Experian.
Personally, I like to get all my reports at once. This way, I get the most complete picture possible and it’s easier to identify if there are any errors that need to be cleaned up.
What to Do If You Find Errors in Your Credit Report
Given the continuous change that occurs with credit reports, it is likely that you will eventually find delinquent information reported on your credit report. This will happen whether the delinquency is legitimate or not.
But the benefit to having regular access to your credit is finding out about negative credit information very quickly after it happens. You will be able to act more efficiently on this information since it will be recent. That means that you will have better recollection of the facts, and will probably have easier access to any documents that prove that the reported information is an error.
If you run up against delinquent information – particularly if it is major – you’ll be well advised to get on this ASAP. You can either clean it up yourself or get some help in setting the record straight.
Creditors are not always cooperative with your attempts to straighten out mistaken information, or for that matter, neither are the credit repositories. Approach them with fortitude and don’t back down. In certain situations, it might be worth it to retain the services of an attorney who specializes in credit issues. They will know exactly what to do, and who to contact to make it happen.