Free Credit Check!
You’re entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and it’s important you take advantage of it. Your credit report contains where you live, as well as past addresses, your bill paying history, your available credit and how much you’ve used, and legal matters that effect your financial life – like whether you’ve been sued or filed for bankruptcy. The three bureaus sell this information to creditors, employers, insurance companies and others who are looking to evaluate you for credit, employment, insurance or renting an apartment. So the information on your reports needs to be accurate to have success in these areas.
And it’s actually pretty easy get your credit reports. The three bureaus have set-up three different ways to access them – through a website, through traditional mail, or by calling a toll-free number.
The website is annualcreditreport.com.
To use traditional mail, there’s a form the FTC had developed that you need to download, fill out, and mail in. (FTC form.) The address to send it to is: Annual Credit Reporting Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
And the toll-free number to call is, 877-322-8228.
If you obtain your reports online you can access the information immediately. And if you order the reports over the phone or through regular mail, they will be sent out to you within 15 days from the date the request was received.
It’s important to go through one of these three sources to get your free reports, and not go directly to the bureaus. They’re in the business of selling your data, and they’ll require you to pay to access it.
Also, be sure to use only one of these three methods listed here. There are a number of websites pretending to have this service provided by the three bureaus. They may advertise that they offer “free” reports, but often this is some type of trial registration for their service that later turns into a charge. Watch out for URLs that have the name “free” in them, and ensure you’ve spelled the URL correctly. Annualcreditreport.com is the only site authorized site to provide the annual free credit reports under law. And they will never email or call you afterward to ask for additional personal information.
Once you’re on the annualcreditreport.com site they’ll ask for the following information:
- Social Security number
- Date of Birth
And if you have moved within the last 2 years they’ll ask for your previous address.
Once you start to access the reports from the bureaus, the individual bureaus will ask four or so security questions to ensure it is actually you accessing this information. The questions are multiple choice and usually look something like this:
- Please select the city that you have previously resided in.
- You currently or previously resided on one of the following streets. Please select the street name from the following choices.
- Which of the following represents the last four digits of a phone number that is associated with you?
- Please select the lender to whom you currently make your mortgage payments. If you do not have a mortgage, select ‘DOES NOT APPLY’.
Each of the bureaus will likely ask a different series of security questions.
So you may be asking – do I really want to go through all of this? Why’s it necessary? There are two main reasons it's important to get your reports at least annually and ensure they’re accurate. The first is these reports, and the credit scores that are generated from them, effect your life in huge ways. It can effect your getting a credit card or a loan for a car or home – and, effect how much you’ll have to pay for that credit. It can impact whether you get a job or not. And it can even effect whether or not you get insurance and how much it will cost.
The other factor that makes getting your credit report important is to guard against identity theft. And given the recent Equifax data breach, identity theft can be a real threat. With that data theft, and others, the thieves can open up new credit accounts in your name and run up significant debt with no intention of pay any of it. That non-payment will be reported on your credit reports, damaging your credit history. By getting your reports you can look for any new or unfamiliar accounts that have been opened.
In addition to getting your credit reports through the free annual process, you can also get a free report if a company has taken adverse action against you. If you have been denied employment, credit or insurance based on something from your credit report, you can request a free copy of your report within 60 days of receiving initial notice of the denial. That notice will specify which of the credit bureaus reported that information, and provide their contact information for you. You can also obtain a free report under the following conditions:
- If you’re unemployed and are looking for a job within the next 60 days, you’re entitled to a report a year.
- If your credit report is inaccurate due to identity theft or fraud.
You can also always buy a copy of your report directly from the credit bureaus for a fee by contacting them directly.
Equifax: 800-685-1111, equifax.com
Experian: 888-397-3742, experian.com
TransUnion: 800-916-8800, transunion.com
And always, it’s a good idea to get all three reports if looking for inaccuracies or an indication of identity theft. All three don’t use the same sources for data. So it’s possible that that if there is an issue, it may show up on two of the reports but not the third, possibly. And if you only look at that one report you’ll miss it.
It may be a good idea to get the individual free reports at different times during the year. That way you’re extending the time you’re able to evaluate your credit history as it’s being reported. Rather than it being just a one-time snapshot that could potentially be different six months later.
Finally, though the credit bureaus maintain and are able to sell your credit data, it is still your credit history. What is on those reports is important to your life, and needs to be as accurate as possible. The first step in taking care of your personal credit history is to obtain your reports and know what's on them.