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Credit reports now free for all

Under the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, every American has the right to a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

How to get your report
The reports will not automatically be sent out. Consumers must request their reports in one of these three ways:

  • Go to www.annualcreditreport.com, which is the only authorized source for consumers to access their annual credit report online for free.
  • Call toll free 877-322-8228.
  • Complete the form on the back of the "Annual Credit Report Request" brochure, available from the FTC, and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

You'll be able to order all three credit reports at one time, or you may order at different times throughout the year. It's your choice. Be sure to order from the centralized agency. If you go directly to the credit reporting agencies, you will be charged a fee unless you fit another criteria for a free report. And beware of ordering your free credit reports from fraudulent, deceptive and misspelled domains that will charge for the same service you can get free.

The new ruling doesn't replace the other ways to receive a free credit report. You're still entitled to a free credit report if: you've been denied a loan, insurance policy or job based on your credit report; you're applying for unemployment or receive public assistance; or you currently reside in a state that already offers one or more annual free credit reports.

A credit report contains a consumer's history of loan payments, including those for mortgages, credit cards and auto loans. It is used by lenders to judge whether to grant additional credit to consumers, and at what rate. It is not the same as a credit score, which takes the information contained in a credit report and distills it into a three-digit number. Credit scores are not included in the credit report, and must be purchased from the credit bureaus or from Fair, Isaac Corp., the company that produces the widely used FICO score.

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