Credit reports provide an overview of your credit history. Unfortunately, they sometimes contain errors, so you want to review your credit reports often to ensure the information being reported is accurate. The good news is you can access your credit reports without spending a dime.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about free credit reports and how to get access in 2021.
What is a Credit Report?
A credit report details how you’ve managed debt in the past. Lenders and creditors review your credit report when you apply for credit cards and loans. They use a unique algorithm to determine the likelihood you’ll repay your debt obligations and if they should extend credit to you. That data in your credit report can also determine the interest rate you receive.
Credit reports are provided by the three credit reporting agencies, or credit bureaus, in the U.S. – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. They gather your credit data from information providers to create your credit report.
What Is In Your Credit Report?
When you access your Experian credit report, you will notice four parts:
- Personal information: includes your full name and aliases, current and previous addresses, current and past employers, your Social Security number, phone numbers, and any individuals you’ve applied for joint credit with in the past.
- Accounts: includes open credit card accounts and loans (i.e.mortgages, auto loans, student loans, personal loans) along with the creditor names, account numbers, payment history, account status, and outstanding balances.
- Inquiries: includes recent hard inquiries for new credit applications and soft inquiries from creditors and lenders for prequalified offers
- Public records: includes bankruptcy filings (for up to seven or ten years).
What Is the Difference Between Credit Reports and Credit Scores?
Both credit reports and credit scores provide insight into how you manage and repay debt. However, your credit score is a three-digit number, ranging between 300 and 850, that’s calculated using the information from your credit report.
Your FICO credit score, which is used by 90% of lenders and creditors to make a lending decision, is comprised of five components:
- Payment history (35%)
- Amounts owed (30%)
- Length of credit history (15%)
- Credit mix (10%)
- New accounts (10%)
The VantageScore is another credit scoring model that’s relatively popular. It is calculated from the following data:
- Credit utilization (highly influential)
- Credit mix (highly influential)
- Payment history (moderately influential)
- New credit (less influential)
- Credit age (less influential)
Why Should You Check Your Credit Report Regularly?
It’s not necessary to check your credit report every day or even every week. However, you should take a peek at least once annually or before you apply for a loan, credit card, or other debt product.
By staying on top of your credit, you can address issues, like inaccurate reporting or identity theft, as soon as they arise. You will also know where your credit health stands and if you need to take steps to improve your credit score.
Where Can You Get a Free Credit Report?
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report per year from the three credit reporting agencies per federal law. You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get started with your free annual credit reports.
You can also request your free report by phone or mail using the information provided below:
- Phone: 1-877-322-8228
- Mail: Send a completed copy of the Annual Credit Report Request Form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5381
Experian also offers free credit reports and FICO scores to consumers through the CreditWorks Basic membership. It only takes a few minutes to create an account. You’ll also receive free credit monitoring that includes real-time alerts any time your credit profile changes, a detailed breakdown of the key factors impacting your credit score, and access to free credit score tracking and Experian Boost to help raise your credit score fast.
Third-party credit management entities, like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, Credit Wise, and WalletHub, also provide free but unofficial credit reports.
FAQs About Free Credit Reports
It’s worthwhile to access free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. The information found in the reports is what lenders and creditors review when evaluating your credit applications. It’s also the same data that’s used to calculate your FICO scores.
You can pay for a credit report through one of the major credit bureaus Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. However, it’s unnecessary as the three credit bureaus offer a free copy of your report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
For a one-time fee of $39.99, you can access your 3-bureau credit report and FICO scores from Experian. The report includes detailed information regarding factors impacting your credit rating.
There is no impact on your credit health if you check your free credit scores or reports. So, feel free to access them as often as you like to stay on top of your credit health.
Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have a right to dispute timely or inaccurate information reflected on your credit report. The first step is to review your credit report in its entirety, highlight any errors and send dispute letters and any documents to substantiate your case to the credit reporting agencies at the addresses listed below:
Experian: P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
Equifax: P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374
TransUnion: P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
The credit reporting agencies also allow you to file disputes online or by phone. If you want to initiate a dispute by phone, call:
Experian – 1-866-200-6020
Equifax – 1-866-349-5191
You should also send dispute letters and any supporting documentation to the information furnisher using the address found on your credit report. Sample dispute letters and additional information on the dispute process can be found in this detailed guide from the Federal Trade Commission.
Suppose you have negative information on your credit report that’s accurate and timely. In that case, you can take steps to start rebuilding your credit profile. Start by getting current on any past due accounts to stop additional late payments from appearing on your credit report. Also, pay down your credit card balances to reduce your credit utilization ratio and refrain from applying for new credit unless you really need it.