One of the first steps to help you better understand and improve your credit is to get your credit reports. Your reports give you a better understanding of what’s going on and offer you the opportunity to spot mistakes that you may want to dispute.
What is a Credit Report
A credit report is a record of your borrowing and debt repayment activities. There are three main reporting agencies in the United States, i.e., Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion; and each keeps its own record about you.
The report lists your credit accounts such as your mortgages, student loans, car loans, personal loans, and credit card accounts; along with the balance and payment history for each account. It also contains significant credit activities such as hard credit pull, bankruptcy, foreclosures, short sales, collections, and liens.
Financial institutions, such as lenders and credit card companies, use the information in your credit report as the main reference point when you apply for a loan or a credit card.
Free Credit Reports from AnnualCreditReport.com
The best and absolutely free method (no credit card needed) to get your credit reports from all three reporting agencies is through AnnualCreditReport.com.
To get your report:
- Go to AnnualCreditReport.com
- Select your State and click “Request Report.”
- Enter your information and click “Continue.”
- Pick one of the credit bureaus — I strongly suggest picking only one (see below) and click “Next.”
- Read the instruction and click “Next.”
- From this point, the instruction may vary depending on the credit bureau (I’m using Experian):
- Enter the last 4-digit of your Social Security Number and click “Submit.”
- Skip all the marketing stuff, go to “No thanks, I just want my free…”, and click “Annual Credit Report.”
- Check the Terms and Conditions box and click “Submit.”
- Answer questions to verify that you are you and click “Submit.”
- If you pass the verification, your free credit report will be shown to you. You can print your report and keep it for your records.
- That’s it!
Free Credit Reports from CreditKarma.com
Another free method to get your Equifax and TransUnion Credit Report is through Credit Karma. To get the report, simply sign up for a free account with Credit Karma, and they will provide you with information about your Credit Scores and Credit Reports from Equifax and TransUnion.
Year-Round Free Credit Monitoring
Although the credit reports are free through AnnualCreditReport.com, you can only get one report per year from each credit bureau.
Previously, we used to recommend that you order one credit report at a time every four-month, similar to this chart below:
Now you can log in to Credit Karma at any time to check your credit scores and reports from TransUnion and Equifax. You can even set up email alerts from Credit Karma to give you updates about changes to your credit reports and notify you of any suspicious activity to monitor your identity.
The new strategy to help you monitor your credit more evenly throughout the year is to check Credit Karma at least once a month, and order your Experian report from AnnualCreditReport.com if you notice something suspicious, or at least once a year.
That was easy, wasn’t it? Now you can sit down and review your credit report at your own pace. Additionally, you can also check your credit score for free and take action to improve your credit score.
Pinyo Bhulipongsanon is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance and a Realtor® licensed in Virginia and Maryland. Over the past 20 years, Pinyo has enjoyed a diverse career as an investor, entrepreneur, business executive, educator, financial literacy author, and Realtor®.
In Canada, we only have TransUnion and Equifax. We can get a credit report from each, annually, for free. But they make you jump through hoops – you have to print out a huge form, mail or fax it in, and wait for weeks. This is an example of companies laughing at lax legislation, because they make it extremely inconvenient and don’t even provide your credit score.
There are some other smaller credit agencies that keep reports too, like Teletrack, which focus on smaller loans, rent-to-own contracts, etc. You can get your report once a year free from them also, or whenever a lender used their report to turn you down for a loan.