The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, a 2003 amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), gives consumers the right to request a free copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion® — once every 12 months.
Although these free options are available, a recent Credit.com survey found that only 50 percent of respondents checked their credit during the past year. Reviewing a free credit report may not only be a helpful way for consumers to gauge their current financial standings, but it may also be an effective strategy for spotting identity theft and credit reporting errors.*
Learn Where You Stand
After requesting your free copy of your credit report, you may be unsure of what to do next. The first thing you may want to do is look at the personal information listed in your files, including your name, address history, Social Security number and date of birth. Make sure all of these details are accurate and up to date. If there are any errors, contact the credit bureaus directly and request that outdated or erroneous information be removed and corrected.
Monitor Credit Accounts
Next, review your creditors. Taking this step may be a helpful way to spot an instance of identity theft or fraud. Look for any types of credit, such as a mortgage, auto loan or credit card that is unfamiliar. Fraudulent accounts may cause damage to your credit reports and scores because the charges accrued on these credit lines typically go unpaid, which may lead to a delinquency mark appearing on your file.
Free credit reports are also a useful way for you to make sure your account details have been reported accurately by your creditors. In many cases, a credit company may accidentally misreport a credit line as having a missed payment, when in fact the balance was paid in full and on time. If you find any type of credit reporting error, file a dispute with the credit bureau that issued the report. The FCRA provides another credit protection in this circumstance, as the bureaus must respond to a dispute within 30 days of it being filed.
It is important to note that these free annual credit reports typically do not include your credit score — the three-digit number lenders use to determine your eligibility for a loan and its terms. However, if you want to view your credit reports, you can do so by request it them by phone, mail or through the government-authorized website, www.annualcreditreport.com.