Question: I’ve recently went on annualcreditreport.com and requested my three free credit reports from the Big Three credit companies (Transunion, Equifax, and Experian). I was able to get my first report from Transunion but not with Equifax and Experian. When I answered their questions to prove who I am, both companies said they weren’t able to verify me. So what do I do now?
— Henry in California
Requesting your full credit reports each year is a smart move. These reports give you insights into information in your credit reports. They help you spot fraud or errors. AnnualCreditReport.com is a great place to start, since those reports are truly free. That website was actually designed to deliver the free credit reports required by federal law.
It’s also smart to review your reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Those are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. While they’re all in the same business, they don’t share information with each other, except when required by law. It’s quite possible to find a mistake on one report and not the others. You want to ensure each report is correct.
[To learn more, check out Where and How to Get Your Free Yearly Credit Report.]
Why your identity needs to be verified
Before you can get your free reports, though, the credit reporting agencies must verify your identity. That’s because federal law strictly limits access to consumer credit reports. You can review your own. But anyone else who wants to review your credit either needs your permission or must obtain it for specific purposes such as a credit, insurance, or employment.
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When you request your reports online, the credit reporting agencies ask a variety of questions that only you should know. That should determine you’re the one requesting your own report. Sometimes it can be challenging to answer those questions, though, especially when they are about debts you may have paid off several years ago. And one thing that often confuses consumers is the fact that “none of the above” is sometimes the correct answer to multiple questions.
[To learn more, check out Credit Fraud and Your Credit Reports.]
If you’re denied online, try by mail
If the credit reporting agency can’t authenticate your identity online, as you experienced, you can order your credit report the old-fashioned way: by mail. The form for requesting your free credit reports by mail can be found on AnnualCreditReport.com. It can take up to 15 days for your request to process, plus time for the credit bureau to receive your written request and mail the report back to you. In total, it may take as long as three weeks to request and receive your reports by mail.
Keep in mind that while federal law gives you yearly access to your free credit reports, it doesn’t require the credit reporting agencies to provide you with free annual credit scores. But there are plenty of other places where you can get them. Here’s a list of 150+ places to get your credit scores for free . Monitoring your credit scores from all three credit reporting agencies on a regular basis can alert you to unusual activity that might indicate fraud.
So while it will take you additional time and effort to get your free annual consumer credit reports, it should be worth it in the long run. Remember, too, that a new federal law allows you to freeze your personal credit reports for free. If you have been a victim of fraud, or are concerned that you may be, you may want to consider placing a credit freeze on your reports.