Your credit report is an overview of your credit history, including the accounts you have opened, the amount you owe, your payment history, and a summary of certain legal issues.
Lenders use this information to determine if they should give you a credit card, car loan or mortgage. Landlords and employers sometimes consider the credit history of potential tenants and employees.
Because your credit history can have a big impact on your financial future, you’ll want to stay up to date on what’s on your credit report.
“People need to be knowledgeable and educated about credit,” said Darin Shebesta, certified financial planner and wealth advisor at Jackson/Roskelley Wealth Advisors, Inc., in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I think at least check [your credit report] once a year is smart, then obviously more frequently as long as you don’t have to pay for it.”
Federal law requires every major credit reporting agency — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide a free copy of your credit report once a year.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, all three credit bureaus are offering free reports on a weekly basis, which means you can keep a close eye on your financial well-being. As of this writing, weekly reports should be available until April 20, 2022.
Here’s how to claim yours.
How to get your free credit report
To request your free credit file, go to AnnualCreditReport.com (don’t trust any other website) and follow these steps:
1. Tap “Request yours now!” in the top menu bar or click on the “Request your free credit reports” button.
2. Click the “Request your credit reports” button on the next page.
3. Enter your information, including your full name, date of birth, social security number, and address in the form fields, then click Next.
4. Select the credit bureau report you want. You can choose one, two or all three. Click Next.
5. Enter the requested verification information, such as the last four digits of your social security number or email address, on the next screen and follow any further instructions.
6. If the credit reporting agency is able to verify your identity, you will have access to your free report. You will need to repeat the verification process for each office if you select more than one.
7. If your identity cannot be verified, you may need to call the credit bureau or submit a request by mail.
As noted, you can currently request a free report from each credit reporting agency on a weekly basis. So it won’t make a big difference if you get all three at once or spread them out over a few days.
Once you are again limited to one report per credit bureau per year, you should request all three reports at the same time only if you are planning a major purchase such as a house or car. Otherwise, it may be best to order a free report every few months.
“Certainly if you’re going to apply for credit, you want to check before you do it,” Shebesta says. “Part of the reason it’s good to check it as soon as possible is that if there are any errors that need to be corrected, it takes time.”
What’s in my credit file?
Your credit report is a compilation of your financial history as reported by creditors, lenders and financial institutions. The information in your credit report generally falls into several broad categories:
- Personal information: names (present and past), addresses (current and former), telephone numbers, social security number, date of birth
- Information about your credit accounts: account types and dates, credit limits, balances, payment history
- Information from public records: liens, bankruptcies, seizures, civil judgments
- Collection history: accounts sent to collection agencies
- Credit inquiries: companies and creditors who viewed your report
Although all of your credit reports will likely contain similar information, they probably won’t be identical. Creditors are not required to report their data to each office, so it is worth requesting a report from each agency at least once a year. It also allows you to compare for common credit report mistakes.
One thing you probably won’t see on your credit report? Your credit score. Credit bureaus are not obligated to provide a free score with your credit report.
Credit Report vs Credit Score
Although they are related, your credit report and your credit score are not the same. Your credit report shows your credit history, which certainly informs your credit score, a prediction of your future creditworthiness.
Credit scores range from 300 to 850 and help creditors understand, at a glance, how likely you are to pay your debts on time. Generally speaking, the lower your score, the higher the risk a creditor takes in lending you money.
“The report tells the story of the score,” Shebesta says.
However, there are a few different formulas used to calculate credit scores, and within each model – FICO and VantageScore are the key players – there are a handful of different types of scores.
Credit bureaus also have their own “educational” scores which may or may not reflect your official FICO score. Your credit score may vary depending on the model used and the data provided by each credit bureau.
How to get a free credit report: result
Your credit report contains useful information about your credit history, which is what lenders use to determine if you should qualify for more credit. You have access to a free credit report from each credit bureau at least once a year on AnnualCreditReport.com – take advantage of this to make sure there are no surprises.