Under the provisions of federal consumer law, consumers may obtain a free credit report from one or all of the big three credit reporting companies by visiting http://www.annualcreditreport.com/
Beware of other websites offering “free credit reports” which include : Experian | http://www.freecreditreport.com/ One of the largest credit reporting firms, that offer the reporting service in hopes that consumers will subscribe to a credit report monitoring service for a monthly fee.
Some of the other popular sites include: FreeCreditReportSource.com, FreebieCreditReport.com, FreeCreditReportsInstantly.com, and many other similarly named websites that will "give" you a "free" credit report, but with the intent of selling you credit services you may have no interest in.
Sound confusing? For the sake of clarity, here are some facts that should be helpful.
The federal government put into place the free annual credit report provision of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), enacted Dec. 4, 2003 to overhaul the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
The provision states that consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax; Experian; and TransUnion.
Along with your personal identification information, social security number, birth date, name, recent addresses and employers, etc., your credit report is a sort of fiscal fitness report on your credit habits. It identifies your credit accounts by type and tracks balances, credit limits, payments, available credit, open-or-closed status and other relevant information, revealing how well or how poorly you pay each account. The report also documents credit requests and notices of liens, judgments and other "derogatory" remarks, remarks from the consumer, and other information.
Credit score is a analysis of credit worthiness and is not available under the “free credit report provision.” Nevertheless a score may be purchased separately from the credit reporting service provider.
When you apply for credit, the creditor takes a look at your credit report, among other documents and data, to determine if you qualify for credit and to determine how much credit it will grant you.
Savvy consumers understand the importance of reviewing their credit report before applying for a new loan or additional credit. This action helps avoid surprises and enables you to take appropriate action in clearing up any mistakes which may adversely affect your application, and to take steps to your credit whenever possible. An unblemished credit report not only gives you fast access to credit, you also pay less in interest than you would if your report contains blemishes.
You've always had access to your credit report under previous provisions -- say, if you credit application was denied -- but now you need not apply for credit to learn what's on your report. It is, after all, your information.
Under the federal law's provision, official, free access to your credit report is available through a single website, AnnualCreditReport.com; by phone, via (877) 322-8228; by mail (Annual Credit Report Service, P.O.Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281); or by filling out the official "Annual Credit Report Request Form" available on the Federal Trade Commission's website.
Now for the fiction… The FTC warns consumers to beware of "impostor" websites, those with enticing names that pose as "free credit report" websites but which are questionable marketing gimmicks designed to enroll you in credit report monitoring and other credit services in exchange for granting you your "free" credit report.
Selling credit report monitoring services is a legitimate business, though consumer advocates say the services are of dubious value.
Federal law says you can get one free credit report from each of the three agencies each year. That means you can get three free credit reports each year. If you spread them out over the year, obtaining one report every four months, each time choosing a report from a different company, you can effectively self-monitor your credit data at no charge. Any nominal extra charge for your credit score is worth the fee.
Before the feds were finished rolling out the official, federally sanctioned free credit report service a year ago it, went after Experian (operating under FreeCreditReport.com and ConsumerInfo.com), charging the company with "deceptively" enticing consumers with "free credit reports" but "not adequately disclosing that consumers automatically would be signed up for a credit report monitoring service and charged $79.95 if they didn't cancel within 30 days, in violation of federal law."
A settlement bars deceptive and misleading claims in such offers and requires clear disclosure of terms and conditions of any such offers. Experian had to return $950,000 to consumers.
Now websites typically, clearly state that when you obtain your "free credit report" you'll be signed up for monitoring or other services -- for a fee. Most websites give you the first month of services free, but then it's up to you to remember to cancel the service.
If you don't, your "free" will become a "fee."
Unfortunately, you may even want to avoid the official, federally sanctioned website if you don't want to chance being sucked into buying credit monitoring services. The home page of AnnualCreditReport.com contains a link to each of the big three credit reporting agencies. In all three cases, hit the link and you'll arrive at a page hawking credit monitoring and related services. "While consumers may be offered additional products or services while on the authorized website, they are not required to make a purchase to receive their free annual credit reports," the FTC reports.