One of the best financial habits you can practice is to check your credit reports every year. Because of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), every consumer can get a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Consumers can take advantage of this opportunity to check for errors and identity theft. Sadly, only one in three consumers takes advantage of this opportunity.[1]

The three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) created a website where you can order all of your credit reports in one place. There is also a toll-free number and mailing address you can use if you prefer to get your reports by mail. This is free on an annual basis—in normal circumstances, you can get your report from each bureau once every twelve months. During the pandemic, the credit bureaus are offering credit reports weekly through April 2022.

Important Update: Bureaus Offer Free Weekly Reports Through April 2022

In light of the unprecedented financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit bureaus have expanded free credit report access. You can now download your credit report from each bureau once per week through annualcreditreport.com.[2]

We recommend taking advantage of these free weekly reports to check your credit often during this crisis, so you can avoid mistakes.

Where to go to order your free yearly credit reports

  1. Download your reports securely online – https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
  2. Request a mailed copy by phone – 877-322-8228
  3. Request your reports by mail – Fill and print out the Annual Credit Report Request Form

After you complete the form, mail it to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348

Requesting your credit reports if you are visually impaired

If you are visually impaired, you can use the TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) service by calling 711 and ask the Relay Operator to go to 1-800-821-7232. You will need to validate your information by answering some personally identifying security questions and certify that you are visually impaired according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

How to download your free credit reports through annualcreditreport.com

If this is your first time getting your credit reports, don’t stress. It’s usually a fairly easy process. But there can be parts of the process that trip people up. This guide will help you get through the process smoothly.

Step: 1 – Go to annualcreditreport.com

Start by going to annualcreditreport.com. The website is secure, which is important given that your reports contain sensitive personal information and credit info. So, you also want to make sure that the location you’re going online in is secure. Try to download your reports at home or on a secure private network. Don’t go to this site while you’re on free wifi or a public network like an office.

Step: 2 – Request your free credit reports

Now that you are on the homepage look for a red button that says “Request your free credit reports.” Click that button to get to the secure portal where you will download your reports.

Step: 3 – Enter in your personal information

Next, you will enter some personal information about yourself, including your legal name, birthday, Social Security number, address, and previous address if you’ve moved in the past two years.

Once you’ve entered all your information, hit the “next” button to proceed.

Step: 4 – Choose which reports you want, or you can choose all of them

On the next page, you will choose which reports you want to download. There are three national credit bureaus in the U.S. and you can use this website to download reports from each of them. You click the box next to the name(s) of each credit bureau report that you want. A checkmark will appear next to each report you select.

If this is your first time reviewing your credit reports, it’s a good idea to download all three. The credit bureaus do not communicate with each other and different lenders and creditors may not report to all of them. So, you want to see what each report says.

By contrast, if you review your reports regularly, you may just want to download one every few months. This will allow you to follow Debt.com’s year-round credit repair plan and cut down on the time you need to review your reports since you can review them each separately.

Once you’ve selected the reports you want, click the “Next” button.

Step: 5 – Verify your identity with the credit bureau

Once you click the next button, the portal will take you to the website of the first credit bureau you selected. Each credit bureau will ask you to verify your identity based on the information contained in your credit report.

This is the step where people can get tripped up. You’ll be asked personally-identifying security questions to verify your identity, such as:

  • The name of a lender or creditor that you have a loan or credit card with
  • The monthly payment on a loan you have
  • The date you opened an account
  • A previous address that you had

The questions are multiple-choice and every question has an option for “none of the above/does not apply.” This is a valid answer. If none of the choices offered seem accurate, then the answer can be none of the above.

The reason that this information often trips people up is because you may not know the exact names of your lenders, especially if the account is several years old. It can be helpful to have account information on hand, such as statements, so you can confirm the information as you go.

If you are correct with your answers, you will be able to access the credit report. If you don’t answer the questions correctly, you’ll be shown a page that will give you contact information, including a phone number and an address. This will allow you to verify your information over the phone so you can still get your reports.

Step: 6 – Review your report or print/download

Once your credit report is open, you can review it directly on the website portal. Or you should see a button that says “print your report” towards the top of the screen. You can click on that button and print out your report on your printer (note: it’s a lot of pages), or save it as a PDF document by selecting print to PDF and then saving it to your computer or tablet.

If you decide to save it, make sure you have a secure computer. And even so, it’s a good idea to download your report and then delete the file permanently once you have reviewed it.

Once you’ve finished up reviewing or getting this report to review later, go back to the top of the screen and click the button to get back to the annualcreditreport.com portal to get your next report.

Step: 7 – Repeat for each credit report

If you selected more than one credit bureau in Step 4, then you will repeat Steps 5 and 6 to verify your identity with each bureau and get your report.

What to look for when you review your free credit report

As you review the report from each credit bureau, there are four things you want to look for:

Is your personal information correct?

If there are errors here, you can change and update your information. One big error that can cause issues are aliases that you don’t use. Aliases are variations of your name that you may have used to open an account. For example, you may have used your middle initial to open an account, which would generate an alias if you don’t typically do that.

The issue is with aliases that you’ve never used. This could mean that you’ve been confused with another consumer and could have collection accounts that are not yours.

Is any negative information listed accurate?

Each report will have a special section that lists items that are considered “negative” in your credit report. These are things like missed payments, charge-offs, and collection accounts. Make sure all of this information is accurate. Otherwise, you have negative items that are hurting your score.

If a negative item is legitimate, note how old it is. Negative information can only stay in your report a set time, so you want to make sure these items are not outdated.

Is your account information correct?

The biggest section of your credit report will detail all of the information about each account. You want to make sure that the payment history is accurate and the account status is up-to-date. Mistakes in this section of your credit report can have a significant negative impact on your credit score.

It’s important to note that each account will have an account balance. This may not be on the dot accurate, depending on when that creditor reports information to the credit bureaus. But it should be close. If it’s not, then you may want to contact the creditor or check your account information online to ensure the balance is accurate.

Do you recognize all of your accounts?

If you see accounts that you didn’t open or collection accounts that you don’t believe are yours, it may be a sign of identity theft. Someone could have your Social Security number and be opening accounts in your name. You need to report it immediately.

Free credit report FAQ

Q:Don’t other websites offer free credit reports?

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A: There are a lot of websites that promise free credit reports, but some are fraudulent, and others are just trying to get you to sign up for a paid credit monitoring service. These websites will ask for credit card information to access your reports even though they say the report is free. If you don’t cancel the service before the end of the trial period, you are automatically signed up for their service.

There is only ONE website that offers truly free credit reports with no strings attached. annualcreditreport.com is the only official site to get your free yearly credit reports. You will be asked questions to verify your identity, but you will not be asked for any credit card information to access your reports.

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Q:Is your credit score included with your free credit report?

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A: Unfortunately, you won’t get your credit score for free through annualcreditreport.com. Be aware that while you are downloading your free credit reports through the website, the credit bureaus will offer your credit score. But you will need to pay for them. They are not part of the free reports guaranteed by the FCRA.
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Q:Why do you need to get a copy of your credit report?

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A: About one-third of all credit reports have errors, and about one in twenty people are victims of identity theft.[3]  Everyone needs to know if their credit reports are correct. Errors on your credit report can negatively affect your credit rating, possibly giving you bad credit. Additionally, by viewing your credit report, you can spot identity theft and report it right away.
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Article last modified on October 15, 2021. Published by Debt.com, LLC