- If you’ve ever had a credit card or taken out a loan, you have a credit report.
- You should never pay to get your credit report. If a website is asking you to pay for your credit report in exchange for personal information, it is probably a fraud.
- You can get your credit report up to three times a year – once from each of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – only by submitting a request on AnnualCreditReport.com or calling directly.
- In additional to your past and current addresses, your credit report lists every line of credit you have ever opened, along with payment details for each, as well as any hard and soft inquiries made by lenders or other businesses.
- If something looks wrong on your credit report, you can typically file a dispute directly through the online report or by calling the credit bureau.
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If you’ve ever had a credit card or taken out a loan, you have a credit report.
For all intents and purposes, your credit report is your financial report card. It lists what loans and credit cards you have or have had in the past, how much money you owe on each, and whether you have paid those bills on time or late.
All those factors and more make up your credit score, a three-digit number between 300 and 850 that indicates how risky of a borrower you are (in keeping with the academic theme, this would be your grade point average).
When you apply for a new loan or credit card, or request a credit limit increase, the lender will take a look at your credit report. It’s important to check your own report a few times a year to ensure the information is accurate. If something looks amiss, you could be a victim of identity theft.
How to get your free credit report
1. Pick an appropriate source
While websites such as Credit Karma or Credit Sesame will allow you to check your credit score at any time, you can only access your credit report three times a year – once from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
2. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228
You can only request your credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling the verified phone number 1-877-322-8228. If another source claims to have your credit report in exchange for personal information, it’s probably a fraud.
Requesting your credit report won’t negatively affect your credit, but again, you’re limited to three reports per 12 months under federal law.
3. Fill out one online submission form
If you’re requesting through the website, you’ll have to fill out one submission form, regardless of whether you want one, two, or all three of your allotted credit reports. The form will ask for your name; your current address; your last address if you’ve lived at your current address for less than two years; and your Social Security number.
4. Decide how many reports you want to review
Select whether you want to receive a report from Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, or all three. The bureaus are given information about our credit-card histories from creditors, but they don’t all have the same information, which can lead to slight variation in the credit history recorded by each.
It’s best practice to review all three over the course of the year; you can even set calendar reminders to request one every four months. However, if you’re preparing to buy a house or make another big purchase that requires a credit check, you may want to request all three reports at once to review for accuracy, since you don’t know which bureau the lender will pull from.
5. Answer security questions
Before you can see your report, you’ll have to answer three or four multiple choice questions to verify your identity. The information in these questions is taken from your credit report and is designed to be tricky (sometimes the correct answer is “none of the above.”) You only have five minutes to answer the questions.
If you request a report from more than one credit bureau, you’ll have to complete this step for each one.
6. Submit your request and review your report
The site will produce your credit report within a few seconds. If you request your report over the phone, it will be sent by mail and could take up to 15 days to arrive.
The report is separated into five sections:
- Personal information: Your name, past and current addresses, year of birth, and phone numbers.
- Accounts: This is where you’ll find the entire history of every line of credit you have or have had in the past – the current balance, date opened, status of the account, highest balance, minimum payment, credit limit, etc.
- Public records: If you have been involved in legal matters, filed for bankruptcy, or experienced a tax lien, it will be listed here.
- Hard inquiries: If you have applied for a new credit card or loan in the last two years, the name of the lender will appear here with the date of the inquiry and the date it is set to expire.
- Soft inquiries: If an employer, landlord, insurance company, or credit-card lender has ever made a soft inquiry into your credit, it will appear here. Soft inquiries don’t affect your credit score and thus aren’t disputable.
7. If something looks wrong, file a dispute
If any of the details, such as a date, balance, or payment looks incorrect – or if there’s an entirely unrecognizable account – you can file a dispute directly from the online report, or by calling the credit bureau’s help line.
Again, all three credit bureaus will give you your report for free once a year, but all three bureaus offer paid identity-monitoring services, should you so choose. TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax’s services include unlimited credit reports, email alerts when someone applies for credit in your name, and ID theft insurance.
8. Print or save a copy for your records
Since your credit report is only available to you a few times a year, you may want to either print a copy or save a PDF version for your records.