Nothing in life is free right? Well in fact you can get free credit reports annually and it won’t affect your credit score. By law, you are entitled to get one free report from each of the big three credit reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian each year thanks to a ruling by the FTC.
Why should you care? Credit reports have an enormous impact on your ability to get credit and at what interest rate. Insurers, landlords, and employers routinely check credit ratings in evaluating whether to insure, rent to or hire people – Is trusting you a good risk? It is important to know as early as possible if there are errors in the report that need to be fixed. You will want to know well in advance before you really need the extra financing, a new home equity loan, extra credit cards or that small business loan. Do you know your credit rating or FICO score? Ensuring that the credit agencies aren’t giving you a bad rap can make or break you and save you thousands over the life of a loan. Doing your own credit check ahead of time to know what is being reported about you is your first step in setting the record straight and protecting yourself.
The formats of the reports from each agency differs slightly, but for the most part they each provide a very detailed account of your credit history, including: the names of your creditors, how much credit they are extending to you, your current balances, whether you have always paid on time or been late and if late, how late, a list of prior addresses, your employment history and employer addresses, any other names you have used, and public records of judgments or liens against you. They even give out your birthday.
The Equifax Credit Report is the cleanest and easiest to read. It has a very concise “Credit Summary” that makes it easy to see at a glance where your credit stands: how many accounts are active, if there has been any negative account history and total balances you are carrying in installment debt on things like your mortgage, auto loan or student loans versus your revolving debt on credit cards or with specific merchants like Nordstrom’s. How to get your free reports from Trans Union, Equifax & Experian:
The rollout has been completed. They are now available to all US residents.
They rolled out by state:
December 1, 2005 – for residents of Western States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
March 1, 2005 – for residents of Midwestern States: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin
June 1, 2005 – for residents of Southern States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas
September 1, 2005 – for residents of Eastern States: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Puerto Rico and all US territories.
Requests for the free reports can be made by phone by calling toll-free: 1.877.322.8228, through snail mail by writing to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281, or the easiest way through the official website set up expressly to handle these free requests: annualcreditreport.com. Be forewarned – they will ask a lot of nosy questions and you will need to know or have fast access to your account numbers, old employer addresses, and how much your typical payments are to your regular creditors.
If you don’t have all your private information on hand, it costs about $10 to buy a report directly from TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian. You may also want to inquire with the credit bureaus about their credit monitoring service plans, as a way to protect your credit from identity theft & fraud.
Even if the rollout hasn’t reached your state of residency, you are entitled to a free report if:
- you have been turned down for credit or employment in the past 60 days, based on something reported on your credit report
- you have reason to believe your credit report has fraudulent information
- you are a recipient of public assistance
- you are unemployed and plan to apply for unemployment within the next 60 days
If any of the above situations apply to you it is easiest to get your reports for free by contacting each credit bureau directly toll-free by phone: Equifax – 1.800.685.1111, Experian – 1.888.EXPERIAN (1.888.397.3742), or TransUnion – 1.800.916.8800.