Let’s assume that you have taken advantage of your federal right to see your credit files via www.annualcreditreport.com.
Did you know that in addition to that once-a-year deal, you can get free credit reports again and again and again—multiple times in a year, if you like—online and directly from the credit bureaus?
You can receive your reports at no cost and with zero obligation. It’s true.
Inaccurate, Outdated Credit Reports
Here’s a little-known piece of information you’ve probably never been told:
Under a federal law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act, whenever you review your credit reports for inaccuracies in order to dispute any erroneous or outdated information in your files, each reporting agency— Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—must allow you access to your current credit file at no charge whatsoever. I’m living proof of this fact.
One summer, I retrieved all three of my credit reports via www.annualcreditreport.com. Then in October of the same year, I went to the bureaus’ websites and got free copies of my reports again simply by requesting them for the purpose of initiating a credit dispute with each bureau.
The following month I disputed more information and got additional free reports.
Mind you, these were legitimate disputes, but I point this fact out because the online dispute process is a loophole in the law to which most consumers seem to be completely oblivious.
So if you’ve got faulty information on your credit report, don’t pay for your files over and over again.
Consider the response from TransUnion (they even used capital letters to highlight it) when I requested a report from that bureau to initiate an online credit dispute: “YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PURCHASE ANY PRODUCT OR SERVICE, OR TO AGREE TO RECEIVE ANY INFORMATION OR MARKETING MATERIALS, TO USE THIS ONLINE DISPUTE SERVICE.”
Disputing False Data
Here is something else to consider.
I do not suggest abusing the system and randomly pulling credit reports every month just for the heck of it.
Nevertheless, there is certainly nothing to prevent you from making legitimate requests for your credit reports in order to dispute false, inaccurate, or outdated data.
If you dispute information online, you’ll find that the credit bureaus require that you have already received a recent credit file, usually one less than 60 or 90 days old. After you acquire a free credit report to dispute erroneous data, if your review of your file turns up no mistakes, then you obviously do not need to dispute anything with the credit bureau.
You still have the benefit of examining your file absolutely free. Moreover, you’ll be provided with an up-to-date credit file any time you do this. If a credit bureau updates your file after you’ve successfully reconciled a dispute, by law it must give you a free report then, too.
The Unemployed and Those Rejected for Credit Also Qualify for Free Reports
In addition to the online dispute process, certain consumers are entitled to a free credit report if they meet other criteria.
By law you qualify for a free report any time a company takes “adverse” action against you based, at least in part, on information it got from your credit file.
In layman’s terms this means that any time you get turned down for employment, insurance, or credit, you are eligible for a free copy of your credit report, provided that you ask for it within 60 days of receiving that adverse notification. If you are denied something based on your credit standing,
the company rejecting you will send a letter telling you which credit reporting agency (or agencies) they used to evaluate your credit history.
You then can contact that bureau and ask for a credit report, even if you’ve already received a free report for the year. What’s more, if you fit into any of these other categories, you can also get a free credit report:
You are receiving public assistance. You have been a victim of identity theft.
You are unemployed and plan to seek a job within the next 60 days.
You reside in a state or territory (CA, CO, CT, GA, MA, MD, ME, MN, NJ, VT, USVI) that offers a free or reduced-priced credit report.
By my estimation more than 65 million Americans fit into the first three categories, making them eligible for free credit reports. After all, the number of Americans receiving food stamps (public assistance) exceeds 46 million; over 10 million people a year are victimized by identity theft; and there are nearly 9 million unemployed adults in the United States.
To get your free credit reports based on any of the circumstances mentioned above, or to initiate a credit dispute with the bureaus, use the following contact information for each credit-reporting agency. For fastest results, reach the bureaus online:
By phone call 877-576-5766 for a free report or 888-800-8859 for a dispute. By mail send your dispute to:
Equifax Information Services, LLC
Post Office Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
By phone call 888-397-3742 for a free report or 866-200-6020 for a dispute. By mail send your dispute to:
Post Office Box 9556
Allen, TX 75013
By phone call 800-888-4213 for a free report or 800-916-8800 for a dispute.
By mail send your dispute to:
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
Post Office Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000
Tip: Because Web links frequently change, if you go to any of the sites and can’t find what you’re searching for, type phrases such as “Free Credit Report,” “Denied Credit,” or “Credit Dispute” into their search boxes, and you should be able to track down what you need.
The point I’m trying to stress is that, even if you have already gotten your free annual reports via www.annualcreditreport.com but want to check your files again for any reason, you have a few options.
One final note: in addition to getting free credit reports from the credit bureaus, a host of online websites also offer complimentary credit reports these days. In a future post, I’ll tell you about various online providers of free credit scores, free credit reports and no-cost credit monitoring tools.