How to get your free credit report
All Americans are entitled to a free credit report every year, from each of the three major credit bureaus. The free credit reports, which used to cost as much as $9.50 each, come as a result of the passage of the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.
Thanks to the law, the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, are each required to provide consumers, upon request, a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months from a centralized source. This centralized source includes a Web site, a toll-free telephone number and a postal address.
The reports will not automatically be sent out. Consumers who want their credit reports must initiate the request in one of the following three ways.
1. Online:Go to www.annualcreditreport.com, which is the only authorized source for consumers to access their annual credit report online for free. Be careful not to make a mistake in the URL -- some opportunistic entrepreneurs have staked out the URLs that are close in spelling, and they'll try to sell you the reports, instead of giving them for free.
2. By phone:Call (877) 322-8228. This may be the choice for those who aren't Internet-savvy.
3. By mail:You may complete the form on the back of the Annual Credit Report Request brochure, 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 at different times throughout the year. It's your choice. But be sure to order from the centralized agency. If you go directly to the credit reporting agencies, you will be charged unless you fit another criteria for a free report.
The 2003 law did not eliminate 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; and you currently reside in a state that already offers an annual free credit report from each credit reporting agency (Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont. Georgia residents are entitled to two free annual credit reports from each credit reporting agency).
What's the catch?It seems like this would be an excellent opportunity for the credit reporting agencies to send you through a complicated maze of requests to discourage you from applying for a free report, or to require you to hand over more of your personal information so they can turn around and sell it. But there's no catch. The FTC has required the agencies to make the process simple, uncluttered with advertisements and as minimally intrusive as possible. Also, the agencies are allowed to collect only as much personal identity information as necessary to process your request.