The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set up a new website (www.AnnualCreditReport.com) where US residents can obtain free copies of their credit reports from the three major credit report bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). The FTC site was set up as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act enacted last December. The site was set up in an effort to help fight the increasing threat of identity theft. The credit reports must be ordered from the FTC site to get them for free. If you order your credit report directly from one of the credit report agencies’ sites, you’ll be charged a fee for the report.
While a number of websites on the Internet currently offer free credit reports, these free reports require a credit card be put on file as a free trial membership of their credit report monitoring service. The reports have been free if you remember to cancel the trial membership, but can end up being quite costly if you accidentally forget. The new FTC site is marketing free and no credit card is required.
To request your credit reports, you’ll need to provide your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. In addition, the credit bureaus may ask you for other information to confirm your identity such as your current monthly mortgage payment. Consumers can also order their free credit reports by calling 877-322-8228 (toll-free) or by mail by writing to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
The free credit reports aren’t currently available to all US residents. They’re being phased in over the next year by region to prevent the system from being overwhelmed. Currently residents living in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming can obtain the free credit reports. Residents in the Midwest can get their free credit reports beginning in March, residents in the South beginning in June and residents in the East beginning in September.
Instead of ordering credit reports from all three credit report agencies at once, you might want to consider staggering the three reports so that you receive one credit report every 4 months. This allows you to see how your credit report is changing over time and whether any mistakes you find have been corrected. It will also increases the chances that you will catch any attempts at identity theft more quickly. If, however, you’re considering a large purchase such as a home or car where your credit score will be used to determine your eligibility, you’ll want to get all three right away. This will allow you to take care of any potential problems as soon as possible.
Once you’ve received your reports, review each one carefully. The three credit reporting agencies handle millions of pieces of information each year and some estimates have errors in as many as half of the credit reports with a major error in ever one in four. By making sure that all the information contained in the reports is accurate, you will ensure that you receive the best rates from credit agencies in the future.
Now that credit reports are free of charge, there is no reason not to request them each and every year. Keeping tabs on your credit report is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against identity theft and make sure that all the information that your creditors are accessing is accurate.