When I took control of my financial life I wanted to understand credit reports and credit scores. I instinctively turned to Google to find answers. The results were overwhelming. I wasn’t quite sure if the information I was reading was correct. Eventually, I chose a link among the results to review my credit report and score.
To my surprise, 30 days later I was charged $19.95 for a monthly subscription. I didn’t realize I subscribed to a credit monitoring service. But, I did remember inputting my credit card information believing this was part of the verification process.
What did I do wrong?
First, I simply clicked on the first few links from the google results page. Second, I didn’t read the fine print when I accessed the credit report. And lastly, I should have known when I inputted my credit card I was signing up for a service.
Through further research, I learned about the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) requiring credit bureaus to provide consumers access to free credit reports once every 12 months.
Here it is: there is only one website that is jointly operated by the credit bureaus: www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
This is the only website mandated by federal law where you can access a free copy of your credit report from Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. You can request your credit reports from each bureau once every 12 months.
Free credit scores and credit monitoring services
There is a growing number of companies offering access to free credit scores along with a credit report card. This report card presents information found in your credit report within the app.
Before I dive into these credit scores and monitoring services, I recommend that you continue to pull your entire credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com. Understand these report cards are not the same as reviewing the information on your actual credit reports.
Enrolling with one of the free credit score apps and monitoring services can be very helpful. It can give you peace of mind by offering a service that monitors activity in your report and alerts you to anything that’s happening. The key benefit of monitoring services is the alerts that notify you so you can take measures to stop fraud at its tracks.
These tools are also helpful in teaching you about the factors that impact your credit score. Understand that these services are free because they earn their income through sponsorships, advertisements, and affiliates with creditors.
Most of these credit monitoring apps work with only one credit bureau. So you may need to have a few of them to cover all three (which isn’t a bad idea in of itself) or pay for an upgraded service. You can find our choices for the free credit report monitoring services in our best list.
How to request your credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com
The AnnualCreditReport.com website isn’t pretty. However, accessing your credit report is quite easy. There are three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You are able to pull all 3 credit reports from these credit bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com.
The report you receive from AnnualCreditReport.com should be scrutinized for accuracy. This is your opportunity to verify the information and dispute any inaccuracies and correct any errors.
Follow these tips to access your free credit report:
- Double-check the website URL: www.AnnualCreditReport.com
- Don’t input your credit card. If you’re entering your credit card to access your credit report, then you’re on the wrong credit report website. Again, no credit card input needed at the correct website.
- Don’t pull all 3 credit reports at the same time. The amount of information you’ll need to sift through can be quite daunting. Choose one credit bureau. Request the report online. Review the information. Dispute inaccuracies online. All disputes must be resolved within 30 days. Learn how to dispute inaccurate information here.
Once you’re satisfied with the credit report, pull the next credit report, and follow the steps above once again.
Follow these steps until you’ve reviewed and corrected all three credit reports. After you’ve requested your reports for the first time, make it a process to request a copy of your reports from each bureau once a year. Set a calendar reminder that repeats indefinitely.
I find that once you’ve got a handle on your credit reports you can pull your new credit report once every 4 months. For example, in January request your Experian report, then in May request your Equifax report, and in October request your TransUnion credit report.
This helps you get access to reports throughout the year. However, I recommend using a free credit monitoring service to help you monitor your credit report. This way if you’re alerted about changes you can dispute the information with the bureau, request a credit freeze, or place a fraud alert within your credit files.
Credit scores are a different story
FACTA and FCRA are federal laws that govern access to credit reports and the process of disputes by consumers. These laws give you the rights to access a free copy of your credit report but it does not include access to credit scores.
When you request your free copy of your credit report on AnnualCreditReport.com you may be asked if you’d like your credit score. In fact, when you pull your free credit reports, the credit bureaus may offer, for a fee, a credit score. Unless you want to pay for your score, you can always check our marketplace to find a free credit score app.