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How to Get a Free Credit Report

Sam Lipscomb, CEPF®
Free Credit Report
Free Credit Report

When it comes to your personal finances, knowing about your credit profile is extremely important. It can determine whether you’re accepted for a home loan, an auto loan, a credit card, rentals, insurance policies or even jobs. Luckily, it’s now easy to get a copy of your credit report. Due to the economic effects of COVID-19, every American is entitled to at least one free copy of their report from each of the three major credit bureaus every month through April 2021. Even if you’ve already used up your free report, there are other ways to stay up to date on your credit profile.

Do you need help fixing your credit or consolidating debt? Speak with a local financial advisor today.

How to Access Your Credit Report for Free

Traditionally, every American is able to request one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. However, because of financial concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, you are entitled to a free credit report every month through April 2021.

Getting your free credit report is fairly straightforward, as you simply need to visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Here you’ll input some personal information, including your full name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. You will also have to answer a few security questions, after which you can generate a free PDF of your desired reports. Should you prefer it, you can also have a physical copy of your report sent directly to you.

You can get reports from one bureau at a time or all three at once. Be careful of other, copycat sites; AnnualCreditReport.com is the only federally-backed site to get your official free credit report. It’s also important that you look over your credit report for any potential errors. If you see inconsistencies, you can dispute it with the appropriate credit bureau so that it doesn’t hurt your score in the future.

Other Ways to View Your Credit Report

While AnnualCreditReport.com is the only official way of looking at your credit report, there are plenty of other options available, though these reports won’t all be official copies. But when it comes to Experian and Equifax, you can make an account on their websites to receive official credit reports directly from them.

Most credit cards you open come with the ability to check your credit score. Although some cards only show you your credit score number, others offer a full breakdown of your credit utilization, active accounts, missed payments and other factors that impact your score.

You also have the option of creating an account on websites like NerdWallet.com or CreditKarma.com. These sites will give you an in-depth look at your credit profile, as well as scores from more than one bureau. They also review your payment history, open and closed lines of credit, bankruptcies and more. These sites also include resources that can help you build, repair and strengthen your credit.

What Information Does a Credit Report Show?

Free Credit Report
Free Credit Report

A credit report is a detailed report of your current and past lines of credit and borrowing and repayment history. Credit reports can often be several pages long, as they provide information in a significant amount of detail. Information can both positively and negatively affect your credit score, as any bankruptcies, late payments and repossessions will be also listed.

If you’re new to using credit and don’t have any open lines or outstanding loans, you likely won’t see much on your credit report yet. This is normal given those circumstances, but it’s a good idea to think about establishing some lines of credit so you have a credit report for lenders you might work with in the future to review.

Note that you may also be able to access additional free credit reports if any of the following situations apply to you:

  • You receive notice that based on a credit report, you were denied credit, insurance or employment, or experienced another adverse action.

  • You think your report has been tainted by fraud.

  • You’re unemployed and intend to apply for employment.

  • You are a recipient of public welfare assistance.

  • Your state laws provide for free credit reports.

How Does a Credit Report Differ From a Credit Score?

While a credit report is a document that details your credit history, the data in a credit report is compiled by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to produce a credit score. Credit scores are often referenced when you’re figuring out if you’ll qualify for a new credit card or a certain rate on a loan. While lenders do look at your credit score, it’s just a number that doesn’t paint the same kind of comprehensive picture that a credit report can.

Bottom Line

Free Credit Report
Free Credit Report

Your credit report can help you get a better sense of your credit profile as a whole. Through AnnualCreditReport.com, it’s easy to access free and official copies of your report from all the major credit bureaus. Plus, you always have the option of using a third-party website that displays your credit information in an easy-to-digest way.

However, regardless of how you keep an eye on your credit, it’s important to continue doing so at all times. You should also dispute any incorrect information on your report and make smart decisions when managing your credit.

Tips for Building Your Credit

  • Your credit score plays a role in your larger financial picture, so if yours is on the low side, repairing it should be a part of your financial plan. That’s where a financial advisor can help. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in just five minutes. Get started now.

  • Using a credit card is a great way to improve your credit score, build a credit profile and take advantage of rewards. Check out SmartAsset’s lists of the top cards for specific credit profiles, including the best cards for bad credit and the best cards for fair credit.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/alexsl, ©iStock.com/Zhonghui Bao, ©iStock.com/i_frontier

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