A reader wonders: "There has to be a catch, right?" Nope, no catch — if you do it right.

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Question: You mention all the time about getting your “free” credit report, but when I Google it, I get lots of results that seem sketchy to me — like freecreditreport.com, which wants to charge me $1 and then enroll me in a “7-day trial membership” for something or other.

Then there’s annualcreditreport.com, which says it’s “the only source for your free credit reports.” But then Credit Karma wants me to get it through them. Help! What do I do?

— Emily in West Virginia

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Here’s a very short answer, followed by a longer explanation of how it got so confusing…

Go to AnnualCreditReport.com

Yes, you can go to other places, and some will give you the same information for free. Others will try to sell you other services you probably don’t want and certainly don’t need. However, only the website above is authorized by federal law, and it’s the only one that all three credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian — cooperate on to give you the crucial data you need.

That last point is important. While many people are aware they can get a free credit report, many more aren’t aware they’re entitled to a free report from each of these bureaus. Many experts, including me, recommend you stagger your free requests, getting one report from each bureau every four months. That way, you’re more likely to catch mistakes before they cause serious damage.

Is your credit rating holding you back? Find out how to fix it.

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If you want to know more, Emily, here’s some brief but required reading…

Of course, a credit score is just a number. What really matters is what you can do with it. A good score and a clean report can mean big savings when you look for a car loan or a mortgage. Learn about credit monitoring, and if you have questions, call one of our certified counselors at 1-800-810-0989.

Have a debt question? Ask our Experts!

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About the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

I’m a certified public accountant who has authored two books on getting out of debt, Credit Hell and Power Up, and I am one of the personal finance experts for Debt.com. I have focused my professional endeavors in the consumer finance, technology, media and real estate industries creating not only Debt.com, but also Financial Apps and Start Fresh Today, among others. My personal finance advice has been included in countless articles, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes and Entrepreneur as well as virtually every national and local newspaper in the country. Everyone should have a reason for living that’s bigger than themselves, and besides my family, mine is this: Teaching Americans how to live happily within their means. To me, money is not the root of all evil. Poor money management is. Money cannot buy happiness, but going into debt always buys misery. That’s why I launched Debt.com. I’m glad you’re here.

Published by Debt.com, LLC