Credit Reports Explained and Where to Get Them

A free annual credit report is available through each of the three major crediting companies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Since your credit report contains important information about you and your borrowing history from banks and other financial institutions, it is important that you periodically check your report. This can help you identify any errors and discrepancies, as inaccurate information could affect your future eligibility for a loan.

When accessing your free annual report, you must be able to provide personal information to verify your identity. This information includes your full name, date of birth, Social Security Number (SSN) and address. Additional information about the steps you must take to access your free annual report is available in the sections below.

Your Annual Credit Report

As part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), each nationwide reporting agency must provide you with one free copy of your report each year. However, you are responsible for requesting your reports and reviewing them for any errors, discrepancies or suspicious activity. If your report contains a mistake or some inaccurate information, you may dispute these errors by notifying the credit bureau in writing.  

Moreover, each of your three reports may contain differing information, as each bureau obtains its information from different sources. In some cases, a lender may report its information to just one credit bureau rather than to all three. Therefore, you may choose to obtain a copy of your free report from each of the three major crediting agencies rather than just one.

Identifying Identity Theft Using Your Credit Report

One of the largest benefits of monitoring your credit report on an annual or more frequent basis is your ability to dispute any errors that you find. Your credit report contains a wealth of personal information about you, including: 

  • Your active and closed financial accounts.
  • The types of accounts that you have. 
  • Your payment history. 
  • Your credit utilization. 
  • Your personal information, including your name and contact information. 
  • Information related to your employer. 

While one or two discrepancies may simply be a mistake, finding multiple mistakes on your credit report is a red flag. Frequent credit report mistakes are a telltale sign of identity theft. 

Therefore, you can learn when your identity may have been stolen in order to freeze your accounts and contact authorities. For this reason, experts recommend that you review your credit report at least once each year, and more frequently if possible.

Should you find an error on your report, it is essential that you notify the credit reporting agency in writing about the error. Furthermore, if you are a victim of identity theft, you can typically utilize this proof when speaking with financial institutions where accounts have been opened in your name without authorization.

Contacting Each Credit Reporting Company

You may use annualcreditreport.com to obtain your free report online, as this website has been authorized to provide free annual reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to anyone who can verify her or his identity.

When requesting your report online, you simply need to provide your personal information, select the types of reports you wish to receive (such as those from Equifax, TransUnion and/or Experian) and answer several security questions to verify your identity. If you wish to obtain a report from each of the three crediting agencies, you must answer these security questions three times.

To get your credit report free, submit the online form and view your reports online or print them for your personal records. However, it is important to remember that your free annual report will not include a credit score. You can only obtain your credit score if you:

  • Purchase it from a reporting agency.
  • Refer to a recent loan or credit card statement that displays this information.
  • Speak with a non-profit credit counselor.
  • Obtain a score from your bank or credit card company.

When you order a free credit report by mail, your request will be processed within 15 days from the date on which it was received. Learn more about how to get free credit report information from each of the three major crediting agencies by reviewing the sections below.

Your Experian Credit Report

In addition to obtaining your free report from annualcreditreport.com or another agency, you may choose to register for a free Experian account if you wish to check your credit history more frequently. Once you register for a free account, you may sign in once every 30 days to obtain a refreshed Experian report.  

While this free online service does not include your credit score, it provides you with the following benefits:

  • Ongoing access to updated reports
  • The ability to monitor your account for fraud and credit inquiries
  • The ability to review and dispute incorrect information more easily

Your Free Transunion Credit Report

To get your free credit report Transunion information, you must place your order through annualcreditreport.com, unless you qualify for an additional personal report at no charge. If you recently lost your job or receive public assistance, you may qualify for a free personal report. If you do not qualify, however, you may purchase a copy of your TransUnion report for $11.50.

Moreover, TransUnion provides you with several free online services as well. As part of these free services, you can file a dispute or check the status of a dispute online, freeze your credit or add a fraud alert to your credit profile.   

Getting Your Free Credit Report Equifax Information

While you may visit annualcreditreport.com to obtain a free copy of your report once per year, you may also choose to register for an Equifax Complete plan if you wish to monitor your report more closely. By paying $19.95 per month, an Equifax Complete account provides you with ongoing access to your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion reports.

Moreover, there are several free services also available through Equifax. Without creating an Equifax Complete account, you may perform the following online actions at no charge:

  • Request a fraud alert
  • Dispute information on your report
  • Place a security freeze on your Equifax report

Credit Karma

Completing the Credit Karma sign up process is another step you may wish to take when ordering a copy of your credit report, as this free online service also shows you your credit score. However, there are several pros and cons to using Credit Karma.

Through Credit Karma, you get free access to your credit reports and scores, but you only receive information from TransUnion and Equifax. You cannot use Credit Karma to obtain a report from Experian. However, you can use this website to check your credit history for accuracy as often as you would like, rather than waiting to request a copy of your report once per year.

Even if you choose to obtain your free annual credit report from each major credit bureau once every 12 months, a Credit Karma account can serve as a useful tool for monitoring your Equifax and TransUnion reports all throughout the year.  


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Other Credit Reporting Websites

While some credit report providers charge you a fee to use their online services, many others do not. For instance, some of the best free credit report websites include:

  • WalletHub, Credit Sesame and Compare Cards. Through these online service providers, you can get a free copy of your TransUnion report.
  • Bankrate and Quizzle. Providers such as Bankrate and Quizzle provide you with access to your Equifax reports.

If you wish to order a copy of your Experian report at no charge, you may register for a free online trial through credit providers such as Identity Guard, My Score, Privacy Guard, Trusted ID or myFICO.

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