Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are allowed a free copy of your credit report at your request once every 12 months. Your credit report details where you live, how you pay your bills, whether you’ve been sued or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide credit reporting companies sell this information to creditors, insurers, employers and other businesses to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment or renting a home.
Having access to this information yourself allows you to ensure that everything is correct and up-to-date. For this reason, it can also help protect you from the damages of identity theft. Thieves can use your Social Security Number or credit card number to open a new line of credit in your name and fraudulently use your identity. That can affect your ability to rent a house, apply for credit or get a job in the future. So, how can you access your free credit report? Here’s a guide to ordering yours:
Get it online
The three nationwide credit reporting companies set up a central website, annualcreditreport.com, for easy access to your report. You can order all three at once, or you can request them at different times. That’s entirely up to you. Some experts recommend staggering your requests over the 12 month period to keep an eye on your credit, other say requesting them all at once can help you find any inaccuracies.
While it’s convenient to be able to get this information online, it’s also important to beware of imposter credit reporting websites. There is only one site authorized to provide this information to you, and any other company claiming to offer free credit reports or scores are not under the legally mandated free annual credit report program. Some sites will claim to be free, but convert into a paid service after a trial period.
In even worse scenarios, these sites will purposely use a misspelled version of “annualcreditreport.com” to trick you into divulging your personal information. You should also be aware that the official credit report website will never email you asking for your personal information. If you encounter any such email, pop-up message or phone call, you should report it to email@example.com.
Get it by phone or mail
If you prefer, you can also obtain your free annual credit report by phone or through the mail. The credit reporting companies also have a joint toll-free number you can call or a form that you can fill out and mail to the Annual Credit Report Request Service.
Provide this information
In order to get your free credit report, you will need to provide your name, address, Social Security Number and date of birth. If you’ve recently moved, you might also need to provide your previous address. You may also be asked a security question to ensure the validity of your identity, like how much your monthly mortgage payment is, but these questions vary depending on the company.
Know what to do when you find an error
If you find any inaccuracies on your report, you should contact both the credit reporting company and the information provider. Under the FCRA, they are obligated to correct or update that information.
Accessing your free annual credit report is a right that can help you protect yourself against identity theft. However, you can only do this once a year from each of the credit reporting bureaus leaving you a small window to detect any fraud. Boost your own personal security by investing in an identity theft protection service, which can monitor your credit, Social Security Number and public record and notify you of certain activity that could indicate fraud throughout the year.