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How to Get a Free Credit Report

Like many people, you may have resolved [1] to pay off debt or otherwise get your finances in order this year. If so, one of the first things you should do is pull a credit report [2] on yourself and your spouse.

If you are planning to purchase a house or apply for any other large loan, you should pull a report before securing financing, even if it means paying. For everyone else, you should take advantage of the Fair Credit Reporting Act [3] and get a free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus every year.

Why Checking Your Credit Report is Important

Your credit report is like a biography focusing only on the credit you have applied for, received, and used in your lifetime. It tells lenders and potential lenders how long you have used credit, how much credit is available to you, how much you are currently using, what types of credit you take advantage of, and whether you have made payments on time. Everything from mortgages to credit cards to library fines can be reported here – as I learned the hard way when I let an $8.00 library fine slip my mind!

The factors on your credit report are taken together to give you a credit score [4]. Any time you apply for new credit, a note is made on your credit report and your score is adjusted accordingly. Lenders use this information to decide whether you are a worthy borrower. When there are mistakes, your credit score could suffer and you could be denied credit. Often mistakes are the result of a similar name or a Social Security number off by one digit. In rare cases, mistakes on your credit report are actually the first sign of identity theft. Regardless of their source, mistakes on your credit report can end up costing you time and money if debt collectors come after you for bad debts. Left uncorrected, they can also lead to higher interest rates on credit you do request, such as a mortgage or auto loan. By checking your report regularly, you can spot mistakes as soon as they happen and sort them out [5] before they cause you any trouble.

Getting Your Free Credit Report

There are three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian), and each is required to give you a free credit report every 12 months. You can space these out to get one free report every four months, rotating through the different bureaus. The three reports will be very similar, but some accounts may only be reported to one or two of the agencies. To get your report online, follow these steps:

  1. To start, go to annualcreditreport.com [6]. This is the only site authorized by the government to give you your credit report absolutely 100% free.
  2. Enter your state, and click Request Report.
  3. Enter your information on the following screen.
  4. Next, choose which of the bureaus you’d like to request your report from. You can choose one or all of the three major bureaus. If you’re applying for a mortgage, you probably want to view all three. Otherwise, choose one now and save the rest for later. You will now be transferred to the website of the bureau(s) you selected.
  5. Once at the website, follow the instructions to view your report!
  6. Check to make sure that all information reported is correct. If you see anything that you do not recognize, or see an account listed as delinquent even though you know you paid, follow the instructions to dispute the item.
    Repeat every four months, cycling through the various bureaus.

Annualcreditreport.com [6] is very safe, but if you’d rather not give out your personal information over the internet, you can also request a free report by phone or mail [7].

Other Places to Check Your Credit Report

You can also get credit reports at Credit Sesame [8] or TransUnion [9].

Another option is to visit Credit Karma [10]. They do not give you an official credit report, but do give you a free credit score as well as a “report card” on what is contributing to your score – if something on the report card seems a little off, you can then pull one of your free credit reports.

However you choose to do it, it’s important to check your credit report at least once a year just to make sure everything is on track as well as before applying for any major credit. Correcting mistakes now can help you save lots of money – and stress – in the long run!