As of Thursday, December 1, 2004, one-third of Americans will be able to access their credit reports from all three main agencies for free. Passed in late 2003, the Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions Act creates a central source consumers can use to obtain a free annual credit report.
Equifax, Experian, and Transunion,the three largest credit reporting agencies, have set up a special site where consumers can request, view, and print their free report. That site is http://www.annualcreditreport.com and is the only authorized site to request your free report(s).
Those without internet access can call toll-free at 877-322-8228 or write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 to request their report(s). This service, which begins in the west coast, will eventually cover all the states by September 2005.
Although you’ll be able to see where you stand with your creditors, you won’t get any type of a credit score, such as a FICO score. Your credit score is the actual number ranging from 300 to 850 that lenders use to judge your creditworthiness and the interest rate they’ll charge you. The Federal Trade Commission is still considering what fee would be reasonable for the bureaus to charge consumers to get their credit score.
Additional provisions of the FACT Act include: creating uniform credit standards, requiring retailers to hide all but the last five digits of your account number on receipts, and new "opt out" rights for consumers.
Also, banks will have to tell you if they are giving you credit at less favorable terms based on your credit score and alert you if they report any negative information about you to the credit bureaus.
Checking your credit report annually is a habit that you should exercise regularly, especially with the increase in identity theft. Unfortunately, if you reside in New Jersey, New York, Maine or any of the other Eastern states you’ll have to wait until September 1st of 2005 before you can check your report for free.