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Those of you that watch our videos know that I often recommend that people keep track of their credit score. In fact, I check my credit score on Credit Sesame and Credit Karma every week to make sure there aren’t any major changes to my score. However, there is something else that I recommend doing once a year, and that’s checking your actual credit report. So in this video/post, I want to share how to get a free credit report annually, discuss why’s it’s important, and share some tips to consider.
Why Reviewing Your Credit Report is Important
Why would you want to review your entire report? There are actually many reasons to do this. Using credit score services often reflects information from one or two of the credit bureaus, rather than from all three (i.e., Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Plus, the information that you’re shown is usually your recent history. You might have something from your past that’s keeping your score from going up. Unless you check your credit report, then you might not have visibility to it.
You will want to keep an eye out for:
- Accounts that you don’t recognize, like credit cards that may have been opened under your name. Even more common are cards where you’re still listed as an authorized user.
- Inaccurate and outdated information, like late payments, incorrect balances, and incorrect addresses.
You’re basically looking for any data that might affect your credit score, especially in a negative way.
How to Get a Free Credit Report
You can request a free copy of your credit report every year from a government-mandated website called AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s possible to get your reports from other places, including credit score reporting sites, but they often cost money.
To get your free annual report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and select “Request your credit reports.” You will then be asked to provide your information, such as your name, birthday, social security number, current address, and past address. You’ll then select the reports that you want. For most people, I suggest requesting all three reports so you have visibility into each one. You’ll then have to go through the process of proving your identity for each credit bureau. Once you get past the security questions, you’ll be able to view and download a copy of your report.
If you have any issues authenticating on the website, you can also request your annual credit report by mail or phone. To file it by mail, all you have to do is fill out the request form and mail it.
If you review your credit report and you find an error, you’ll have to see whether the error is in all the reports or just one or two of them. Once you identify the errors, you’ll need to submit the corrections online. Since each has their own process for submitting credit report errors and disputes, I’ll cover it in a separate video/post.
If you find a collections account, you’ll want to determine whether it’s valid or not. Also, you’ll want to create a plan for getting it removed from your credit report, especially if it’s been a significant time since the collection was valid. For more information on dealing with collections, see this article from LendEdu which provides a plan and approach for dealing with these accounts.
In addition, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Tips and Considerations
1. Make sure you’re at the right site:
There are a lot of similar sounding and looking websites hoping to capitalize on accidental traffic. Make sure you are on the right website before you apply for your credit reports.
2. Don’t get any of the extra services:
When you apply for your free credit report, the site will attempt to up-sell you on all types of credit protection and monitoring services. For most people, I don’t think that it’s necessary. I suggest avoiding the up-sell and sticking with the free report.
3. If you fail authenticating online, you can try again:
For some reason, I failed the authentication process when I tried to access my TransUnion credit report. The site said that I would have to request the report through the mail. Though after I continued the process and got my reports from Experian and Equifax, I restarted the process and requested only the TransUnion report. This time I got different questions that I was able to answer successfully.
4. Get additional reports when denied credit:
If you want to see your credit report, but requested one less than a year ago, you can still get a copy if you’ve been denied any credit. For example, if you were denied a credit card, you should have received a letter in the mail with information on getting your free credit report. Also, if your information was involved in a security breach, like mine was recently with TaskRabbit and my student loan provider, you can often request a copy of your credit report for free. These situations usually provide free credit monitoring services as well.
5. Outdated employment information:
A common error that you’ll find on your credit report is outdated employment information. While it’s worth correcting, it probably will not affect your credit rating.
6. Keep track of our credit card accounts:
One of the hard things to keep track of is when you opened and closed accounts. I personally recommend maintaining a spreadsheet of your credit card accounts so you can track information about the account like the open and close dates and annual fee. This also helps keep track of which cards you want to keep after the first year. If you need a simple tracker, we have one that you can use for free.
To be honest, I dislike the way that the credit bureaus provide information through the Annual Credit Report website. I feel like there should be a standardized process for each, but it feels like you’re dealing with three unique and distinct businesses. The fact that I have to answer the security questions three times seems extremely inefficient, especially since the questions can be confusing and obscure. I wish there was one entity that would monitor the reports for discrepancies and push corrections to all of them. Plus, I don’t like that the credit bureaus try to up-sell services on the site. Most of you are savvy enough to avoid the extra services, but I have a feeling that a lot of people get suckered into enrolling in these unnecessary services.
Despite these frustrations, it’s worth getting your annual credit report and monitoring any discrepancies, especially if you’re someone that is strategically using credit cards for cash back and travel.
Do you check your credit report regularly? Have you used AnnualCreditReport.com?