How to get a free credit report

Credit ratings aren’t something that we see every day, yet they do impact our daily life. When we asked Miles Reed at Transunion why these reports are so important, he replied, “It is important because it gives you the chance to review all the information you have on the credit report and to see if there are any discrepancies on your file.” There’s a lot of importance hidden in that brief statement.

Depending on your credit rating, your monthly payments on your home mortgage may rise or fall, and the interest rate on your credit cards may do the same. For some personal installment loans, you may not even be eligible to apply unless you have a high enough credit rating. Thankfully, the U.S. government has mandated the availability of one free annual credit report per person. Below is a step by step guide for accessing your free yearly credit report.

Step by step guide to getting your free credit report

  1. Go to the free annual credit report website.
  2. Click on the button part way down the page that says “Request your free credit reports”
  3. Put your personal information into the form. This information includes name, birth date, address and social security number.
  4. Answer security questions about your finances to further verify your identity.
  5. Click the button to submit and generate your free credit report online.

Getting a free credit report from the three major bureaus

There are three federal credit bureaus within the U.S. that are responsible for consumer reporting. These bureaus are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Each of them has automated systems for providing a free annual credit report. Below are the steps required to get your free annual credit report from each of the bureaus.

Experian: Go to the Experian free credit report website and fill out the online form. Once completed, click the ‘continue’ button at the bottom and this will direct you towards getting your free report.

Alternatively, you can call 1-866-200-6020 and use the Experian free credit report automated phone line.

Equifax: Go to the Equifax free credit report website and click ‘get started.’ After that, you will need to fill out the digital form and submit it to generate the report.

It is also possible to get this report by phone. Call (877)322-8228 and the Equifax automated system will walk you through the steps to gain your report.

TransUnion: Go to the TransUnion free credit report website and click the button that reads ‘Get your free credit score.’ After that, you will fill out the digital form and submit to receive your free TransUnion credit report.

To get your TransUnion report by phone, call 800-888-4213, and their automated system will walk you through the process of getting your free report by phone.

What to look for in your credit report

There are a few different sections within your credit report. Below is listed some of the information you can expect, as well as some pointers for possible mistakes to look out for. It is always a good idea to go through and verify the accuracy within these sections.

  1. Personal information
    • Check that the spelling of your name is correct and that the report contains your correct address and phone number.
    • Verify that it contains the correct information for your employment information, your social security number and your birthdate.
  2. Public records
    • Make sure you don’t have any false information in the report regarding lawsuits or bankruptcies.
    • You will also find information in this section on dated lawsuits and tax liens that you have been involved with.
    • Any information on unpaid taxes will also be available in this section.
  3. Credit accounts
    • Make sure that the report doesn’t contain accounts from anyone but you. Occasionally these reports will accidentally include account information from others who share your name or have a very similar name.
    • This section will show you any accounts you have listed as joint accounts with your spouse or others.
    • Within this section is information on any premarital debts that are being attributed to you.
    • Make sure that this section includes all accounts that you are an authorized user of.
    • Any late payment information for your accounts will be displayed here.
    • Information regarding the payment of debt related to bankruptcy will show up in this section.
    • All disputed charges should be listed here with relevant notations.
    • Verify that you aren’t listed as a cosigner on any accounts that you shouldn’t be.
    • Ensure that no accounts which you have previously closed are listed as open, as this can affect the amount of open credit you have.
  4. Inquiries
    • Here you will see credit inquiries from businesses that have sought to verify your credit ratings. These inquiries can happen when signing for some customer discount programs, or situations like test driving a car at a dealership.

How to dispute errors on your credit report

You may discover errors within your credit report. If you do, don’t worry, there is a system in place for disputing them.

  1. Carefully review your credit report and highlight any errors within it.
  2. Contact the creditor to inform them of the errors. If this doesn’t lead to a resolution, then you may need to write a formal letter to the creditor outlining the errors and providing any documents you have that support your claim. For a sample letter of this nature, you can visit the Federal Trade Commission.
  3. Give the creditor time to use the information that you have provided in an investigation of the alleged errors. These investigations can be time-consuming, but they are a necessary step in the process.
  4. Review the outcome of the creditor’s investigation. They will notify you in writing of the results of their investigation, and they will enclose a free copy of your credit report if any changes have been made as a result of your dispute.

In a nutshell

If you aren’t in the habit of checking your credit report annually, you should begin now. Not only is it free to do so, but you can potentially avoid many hassles down the line. False information can find its way into your credit history, and if you aren’t reviewing these reports, then it’s likely to stay there. The presence of such false information can lead to time-consuming and potentially costly complications when you try to take out a loan or open a new line of credit in any form. Not only that, but the information within these reports is a component of how interest rates are determined for all of your current credit cards and loans.

Joshua Cox-Steib

Joshua Cox-Steib is a sociologist and personal finance writer. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his wife and their three pets. He obtained his bachelor’s of sociology at the University of Tulsa, where he, ironically, met his wife.