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How to Get a Free Credit Report and Why You Should

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Finding out your credit rating or credit score might seem like a mysterious and challenging ordeal, but it really isn't. It's possible - and surprisingly easy - to get a free credit report each year. This will help you to annually monitor your credit, ensure that your credit card and loan payments are reported accurately, and protect your identity from being infringed upon.

What is a Credit Report?

A credit report is a document that lists events in your recent history that impact your credit rating or credit score. Any loans, credit cards, or other debts incurred over the past 7 years can and should be included on a credit report. Some information - such as past bankruptcies or unpaid tax liens - stays on a credit report for longer, while certain types of credit checks, like those for high-salaried jobs, will pull up all credit information from the very beginning of your history.

A credit report is usually summarized in a credit score, a number between 300 and 900 that tells banks and other lenders how trustworthy you are and how sound of a lending investment you might be.

Why Should I Check My Credit Report?

Your credit report is supposed to include transactions and history for you and only you. That's why it's connected to your name and social security number - so that employers, loan officers, credit cards, landlords, and anyone else who might check your credit report knows they are receiving information about the right person.

But in cases of identity theft - a growing problem in the United States - thieves will use your personal information, such as credit card and social security numbers, to steal money or secure a loan or credit card that they never intend to pay back. These kinds of transactions can have a serious impact on your credit score - one that victims don't usually learn about until months or even years later, when they are denied a mortgage or passed over for a job offer. Occasionally, there are legitimate mistakes in credit reports that are easy to correct if they're caught right away, and all but impossible to erase if they're left for a while.

The best way to prevent these problems is to check your credit score regularly by ordering a copy of your credit report.

Free Annual Credit Report

By federal law, every consumer is entitled to a free copy of their credit report each year. These reports aren't sent automatically, but it is possible to request one from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each of these reports may have slightly different information, since banks and lenders only report to one or two of these agencies. However, someone checking your credit score may choose to look at all three, so it's important to keep them accurate and up to date.

Your free annual credit report will not include a FICO credit score - the number between 300 and 900 - but it will give you all of the credit information that banks and agencies use to calculate that number.

It's possible to order your free credit report by phone, mail, or online:

  • By Phone: Call (877) 322-8228
  • By Mail: An Annual Credit Report Request form must be ordered from the Federal Trade Commission and mailed to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can also print the form at the FTC's Your Rights: Credit Reporting web page.
  • Online: AnnualCreditReport.com is the sole authorized site, although many other websites offer a free credit report (but in order to get the report you must sign up for a credit monitoring service).