The Frustration-Free Guide to Getting (And Understanding) Your Free Annual Credit Report

published Apr 16, 2019
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Every year, you’re entitled to a free credit report. You can consider it a financial wellness exam of sorts as the comprehensive report details your credit activity, getting into the nitty-gritty details of on-time payments and credit limits.

But, this all-encompassing report won’t just automatically arrive in your mailbox. You’ve got to ask for it.

Here’s what you need to know about requesting your Annual Credit Report, and what it all includes.

First, what is on your free annual credit report?

Federal law requires that the three major credit reporting agencies— Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—give you a free credit report every 12 months.

“Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus every year,” says Priyanka Prakash, a credit expert with Fundera, a small business financial solutions marketplace.

So, technically, you can get three credit reports for free each year. You don’t have to order them all at once; you could space out your requests.

Also, know this, Prakash says: “Checking your own credit score won’t harm your credit.”

In fact, you could spot errors on your report that could help give your credit a boost.

What surprises many people, though, is the fact that these annual credit reports don’t actually contain your credit score, which fluctuates throughout the year and can be monitored on free, third-party sites or is provided as a courtesy by your credit card company.

Your annual credit report contains the following information:

  • A list of businesses that have given you credit or loans
  • Total amounts owed for each loan and credit limits for each credit card
  • How often you paid your credit or loans on time, plus the amounts you paid
  • Any missed or late payments as well as bad debts

Credit reports may also include your current and former names, address, employers, and any public record information, including bankruptcies.

How to get your annual free credit report

You can request a copy of your free annual credit report online, by phone or by physical mail.

Here are the details on how to do so:

Online:

To get instant access to your credit report, you can request it online at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the official, federally authorized website and you will verify your identity through an authentication process.

Phone:

Call 1-877-322-8228. You’ll go through a verification process over the phone to confirm your identity. Your credit report will then be mailed to you within 15 days.

Mail:

Start by downloading the request form. Print and complete the form. Then, mail it to the following address:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Once the request is received, your report will be mailed to you within 15 days.

How to avoid scams and spot errors on your credit report

There’s only one official source that is sponsored by the major credit bureaus and authorized by federal law, AnnualCreditReport.com.

“Again, getting your credit reports from this website is free,” says Oliver Browne, credit industry analyst with Credit Card Insider, a credit card comparison and education site. “If you are being asked to pay for your reports don’t do it—it’s likely a scam website or an additional monitoring service from one of the credit bureaus.”

When you get your free credit reports, give them a good review and look for fraudulent activity.

“Look for accounts that you didn’t open or names or addresses that are not yours,” he says.

Along with requesting your yearly free credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com, it’s also wise to monitor your credit reports in other ways, Browne says. Most of the large credit card issuers provide credit monitoring in some shape or form, he explains.

What to do if you spot an error on your credit report

Identity errors are among the common errors that you may spot on your credit report, which could include accounts belonging to another person with your same name or a similar name. This happens when two consumers’ information is mixed into a single file, resulting in a mixed file, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP). You may also discover on your credit report that you’ve been a victim of identity theft.

Other mistakes to lookout for, according to the CFPB, include the following:

  • Closed accounts reported as still open
  • Being reported as an account owner if you are just an authorized user
  • Accounts incorrectly reported late
  • Same debts listed more than once
  • Accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed
  • Incorrect balances or credit limits

If you discover an error on your credit report, the CFBP recommends contacting the credit reporting agency as well as the creditor or company that provided the information.

Your credit report will include directions about how to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information.

Also, the CFBP provides sample letters that you can work from. Here’s a sample dispute letter to creditors and here’s one for credit reporting companies.

One final tip: Set up a reminder in your calendar so that you know when you’re due for your annual credit check-up.

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