Free Credit Report Basics
Keeping up with your credit reports is essential for anyone who is serious about their financial well-being. They may be the only way for you to detect if your identity has been stolen. This post will show you how to get three free credit reports a year (through a government run program) at annualcreditreport.com, with no strings attached.
What is a Credit Report?
Let’s start with the basics on this one. You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. Credit reports will show you all of the credit accounts (including loans of any kind) that you have open at any time or have had open and your payment record by month for each.
To fully understand what a credit report is, it is important to differentiate it from a credit score.
What is a Credit Score?
As stated by annualcreditreport.com, “A credit score is a complex mathematical model that evaluates many types of information in a credit file. A credit score is used by a lender to help determine whether a person qualifies for a particular credit card, loan, or service. Most credit scores estimate the risk a company incurs by lending a person money or providing them with a service and determining specifically, the likelihood that the person will make payments on time in the next two to three years. Generally, the higher the score, the less risk the person represents.” The method that I highlight below will be for free credit reports, not credit scores.
You can get your TransUnion credit score for free using Credit Karma. They also give you a free VantageScore, which is increasingly being used by creditors instead of a FICO score.
When Should I Use a Credit Report and when Should I Use a Credit Score?
Credit reports serve two main purposes:
- To highlight any long-lost open accounts or accounts you didn’t even know you had open (that maybe even were not opened by you). You can then remedy by disputing the information or closing the accounts.
- To clean up your credit history prior to an event where you will need to apply for credit.
It is best to check your credit reports often – at least a few times per year, just to stay on top of things.
Credit scores should be used in advance of applying for credit. If your score is relatively low, you may not be able to get the best rates when getting credit, and a score may indicate that you need to do some things to remedy that.
Annualcreditreport.com Versus Freecreditreport.com
Remember all those catchy jingles on the commercials for ‘freecreditreport.com’. Just sign up for your “free trial membership” where you submit your credit card. Getting your “free” Experian credit report automatically enrolls you into their credit monitoring service for $16.95 per month, and you hopefully forget about cancelling prior to the end of the membership. Ironically, Credit Karma is now offering free credit monitoring as well, so paying for credit monitoring just got a whole lot less appealing.
The FTC tried to cut down on free credit report scams by offering counter-advertising and the folks at freecreditreport.com have since focused their ads on more profitable territory by promoting freecreditscore.com.
As the FTC’s free credit report disclaimer site says, annualcreditreport.com is the ONLY authorized source to get your free annual credit report under law. It is a website created by Experian, Equifax, and Transunion that allows you to access free credit reports (no strings attached).
Rotate to Get Three Free Credit Reports Per Year
If you plan accordingly, you can get three free reports on annualcreditreport.com via each of the three agencies per year. Here is an example on how I do this:
- Jan. 1: I get my free Experian Report
- Tax deadline: I get my free Transunion report.
- Start of Football season: I get my free report from Equifax.
I suppose adding to a calendar would be easier, but this works for me.
Next, mark one day post those dates on next years calendar with the same agencies, and you’re set.
Credit Karma Now Offers Free Credit Report Access!
Credit Karma now has free credit report access too. In addition to a free TransUnion credit score, VantageScore, Home/Auto insurance scores, Credit Karma is now offering complete access to your full TransUnion and Equifax credit report. This gives you more consistent access to credit reporting throughout the year (versus just once via annualcreditreport.com).
Free Credit Report Discussion:
- Where do you get your free credit reports?
- Have you caught any discrepancies in your report that you’ve had to dispute?
- Have you been sucked in by the catchy jingles in the past?