How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
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If you’re not sure what’s on your credit reports, you may be in for a surprise.
Your credit reports contain your history with borrowing and repayment activity, but they may also have negative information you aren’t aware of, like old utility bills in collections, serious errors or even evidence of identity theft.
If you’ve put off reviewing your credit reports until it’s time to apply for a loan or a new apartment, it may be too late to fix problems or errors in time. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of your credit reports by regularly monitoring them, which you can do for free.
Where can you get a free credit report?
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to pull all three of your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Pulling these reports is free and has no negative impact on your credit scores.
In the past, these free reports were available to you once a year from each of the credit bureaus, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can now pull them once a week through April 2021.
How to pull your free Annual Credit reports:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
In addition to snagging a free copy of your credit report, you can also use LendingTree to get a free estimate of your credit score. Sign up here to find out where you stand and learn how you could improve your score.
What’s in your credit reports
Your free annual credit reports contain your history of managing credit accounts over the last seven to 10 years. You’ll likely see differences between each of your reports, since some creditors may have different information about you, and they may not report the same data to all three credit bureaus, but you’ll also find commonalities.
Here’s what you can expect to find in all three of your credit reports:
- Identifying information. Your name and variations of your name that you’ve used to apply for credit in the past, your Social Security Number and your date of birth. You’ll also find contact information, which could include current and old addresses.
- Credit accounts. This includes open and closed loans and credit card accounts, as well as calendars showing your payment history for each account. Missed debt payments will remain on your credit reports for seven years.
- Collections. Unpaid debt and bills, which can include utility payments and medical bills. Accounts in collection remain on your credit reports for seven years from the date you fell behind on your payment, even if you pay off the balance.
- Inquiries. An “inquiry” is recorded every time your credit report is pulled. When you apply for a loan or credit card, the creditor makes a hard inquiry, which shows on your credit reports for two years. Hard inquiries cause your FICO scores to drop by a few points, but the loss of points is typically small and temporary. Soft inquiries, on the other hand, don’t impact your credit scores at all — instances in which you might incur one include checking your credit score or getting preapproval for a credit card.
- Public records. If you’ve had a bankruptcy, you’ll find it listed in your reports. Depending on the chapter you filed, the record of your bankruptcy will remain on your credit file for seven to 10 years.
Why you should review your credit reports
The information in your credit reports allows potential lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness when considering your application for loans and credit cards, as well as help them determine what your interest rate will be — it can even affect your chances of getting a job or an apartment. The information contained in your credit reports is also fed into an algorithm that makes up your credit scores.
But positive changes to your credit don’t happen overnight. At minimum, it takes generally between 30 to 60 days for new information to show up on your reports and be factored into your scores, and building excellent credit can take much longer. That’s why it’s important to review your credit reports regularly and take the time you need to address errors.
The following information has a big impact on both your credit reports and your scores:
Activities that build credit
- Timely payments. The key to building good credit is consistently paying at least the minimum payment on your debt accounts by the payment due date.
- Low balances. Carrying debt won’t prevent you from having great credit — still, the lower your balances are, the better your scores will be.
- Long credit history. Lenders like to see a pattern of responsible borrowing and repayment behavior over a long period of time. Also, opening and closing accounts rapidly can send the wrong signal, one indicating high risk. So, when it comes to credit cards, only open accounts sporadically, and try to keep your oldest cards open and active by using them for small purchases.
- A mix of credit accounts. Creditors may view you as a more reliable borrower if you show you can manage different types of debt responsibly, including different types of loans and credit cards.
Activities that damage credit
- Late payments. A single, 30-day late payment, has a significant impact on your credit scores and will remain on your credit reports for seven years.
- Inaccurate information. Simple errors, like an incorrect name, can make it difficult for creditors to confirm your identity. Bigger errors, like an account that doesn’t belong to you, may be an indication of fraud.
- High balances. Carrying high balances can indicate that you’re relying on credit to cover your expenses and that you might have trouble making future debt payments on time.
- Bankruptcies. Filing bankruptcy has a severe impact, since it shows you were unable to manage some or all of your past debt. The higher your starting credit scores, the more points you stand to lose when you file bankruptcy.
How to dispute credit report errors
If you find an error on your credit report, you have the right to dispute the error and have it corrected or removed. Disputing errors on your credit reports is free and involves a few simple steps.
Steps to file a dispute:
1. Identify credit report errors.
Be sure to read your reports thoroughly and make a note of all errors, including mistakes in identifying information (such as your name or Social Security number).
2. Contact the credit bureau.
You can attempt to resolve a legitimate error with the credit bureau that lists the inaccurate item — in addition, you may also consider filing with the business that reported that inaccurate information.
Where to submit a credit bureau dispute:
Equifax Information Services, LLC.
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
3. List each item you wish to dispute.
Include specifics, such as the creditor’s name, the account number and your explanation of why the information is wrong. If you have documentation supporting your dispute, such as a bank statement or a letter from your creditor, upload or mail your document with your dispute.
Once you file your dispute, the credit bureau must conduct an investigation within 45 days (generally 30, but more time can be added if you send in additional information). If the information you dispute can’t be verified, it must be corrected or removed from all three of your credit reports. As an added measure of security, you’ll want to continue monitoring your free credit reports to make sure everything is in order.