AnnualCreditReport.com – What you actually get for free…
Residents of all 50 of the united states are now eligible to view all 3 free credit reports per year, one from each of the 3 big credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), at a government mandated central location - www.annualcreditreport.com. But do you know exactly how it works, and what you actually get for free? Is your free credit score included? How to avoid getting fooled by imitations? Those are just some of the things I’d like to cover with this review…
First thing’s first, visit www.annualcreditreport.com to start your session. This should cost nothing, and they will never ask for your credit card information in order to view your free reports, this is very important to keep in mind, so you aren’t duped into some sort of unwanted credit monitoring service free trial at another website masquerading as the real AnnualCreditReport.com (yes they do exist, more on that later). Once you’re there, start your session by selecting your state from the drop down, then click “Request Report” (as pictured below).
After that is done, you will proceed to the second page where they will collect your personal information, as pictured below. This site requires you to enter information such as your full name, date of birth, social security number, current address, and previous address if you’ve lived at your current address for less than 2 years. I’m sure some these required fields is part their effort to ensure that this is YOU accessing your own credit report, and not someone else trying to spy on your credit history. This information is transmitted over a secure connection for our safety. Fill out this form and click “Continue” at the bottom.
Accessing your free credit reports
On the next page you will be able to choose which of the three credit reports you want to view. You can choose just one, two, or all three. I usually like to view all three at once, but there are other options such as viewing just one now, then waiting 4 months to view another, and finally viewing the third 4 months after that, then repeat after it’s been 12 months since you accessed the first one. People who do this feel like they are monitoring their reports more closely than viewing all 3 at once. I prefer viewing all 3 once a year so I can compare them. To each his own. What you choose to do is completely up to you. But you must select at least one, then click “Next” to proceed to the credit bureau’s website to view your report. See the picture below.
After you have selected which of the 3 credit reports you want to view, you will be taken to each site (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) one at a time, where you are able to view your full credit report for free, from that site. At that point, you may be asked to again confirm your identity by entering the last 4 digits of your social security number, or it could possibly be some other question. Also keep in mind that at each individual website you will be urged to buy your credit score, or possibly a credit monitoring service which comes with a monthly fee… there’s no need to take them up on their offer, just ignore it and view your reports for free.
In any event, after you are done with, lets say, viewing your Experian credit report, there is always a banner you can click on at the top of the page to return to annualcreditreport.com. Keep that in mind as well, because you must do that when you are finished with one, if you want to proceed with viewing your other reports.
Ok, now you’re back at the central hub again, and if you chose to view more than one report, you are then able to proceed to the next website (lets say next comes Equifax). You click “next” to proceed to Equifax’s website, then view your Equifax credit report – yada yada yada… then when you are finished there, you once again return to the main annual credit report site.
The same cycle continues with TransUnion, I think you get the idea. You can view them online for a short period of time, I believe it was 30 days. So I would either print them out or save them to your computer for later viewing and/or printing.
Some commonly asked questions
- Is it really free? Yes it is truly 100% free, no strings attached!
- What about viewing my credit score for free? Well, that you will have to pay extra for at each website, when I checked mine last the price for each credit score was $7.95. There’s no free credit score included. In fact, there is no such thing as a completely free credit score, there’s always some price to be paid whether it’s subjecting yourself to advertisements, signing up for a free trial of a credit monitoring service, or actually paying money to view your score. Check out our article on how to get a free credit score for more on that.
- Is AnnualCreditReport.com an easy and useful way to view your credit report from each of the big 3 reporting agencies?
- Easy? Not so much, since you have to go to each website to access your individual reports. It would be much easier if you could access all your reports directly from AnnualCreditReport.com without having to leave the site to access each one. But it is free after all, so I guess we can’t expect too much.
- Useful? Yes, but you only get one free report from each agency, per year. If you want another free “round of credit reports” you have to wait another 12 months from the time you last accessed them. Unless of course you spread your 3 reports throughout the entire year, accessing each one every 4 months. But keep in mind all bureaus don’t necessarily have the same information contained within them, which is why I personally like the idea of continuous credit monitoring services like Identity Guard, even though there is a cost associated with it.
- Do the free credit reports update? No, you might as well save them to your computer or print them out, because they will not change until you request a new one, and they are only available for a limited time anyway.
- Are there other websites out there trying to imitate the real AnnualCreditReport.com? Yes there are, so be careful. I have linked to the real one here, but at any time in the future if you come across a website talking about your free annual credit report, and during sign-up they start asking for your credit card info, don’t do it. If you’re not careful you can end up subscribed to an expensive credit monitoring service without even realizing it.
Basically this is just a barebones way to view your credit report from each of the big 3 credit reporting agencies. It doesn’t include credit monitoring, or a free credit score, or any other bells and whistles. The free credit reports do not update, and you can only do it one time per year for each credit bureau (which is the equivalent to three times per 12 month period, if you choose to view one report at a time, every 4 months). But it’s 100% free, and every U.S. citizen is entitled to it, so it’s definitely a resource everyone should know about and take advantage of.