The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that credit bureaus and other suppliers of credit data provide fair and accurate information. Even so, the Federal Trade Commission says that one in every five consumers will find errors in at least one of their three credit reports at some point in time. Even more alarming is how much an inaccurate report can affect your credit score. The good news is, you can check your own credit report as often as you wish to ensure all of the information in it is accurate.
Getting Free Reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act says that each major credit bureau -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- must give you a free credit report once every 12 months. The Nolo law website recommends that instead of requesting them all at once, you should request a free report from a different agency every four months. You are also eligible to receive a free report after a lender denies a credit application, offers you less favorable terms than you requested or reduces your credit limit, or if you lose your job and are seeking employment. Request a free annual report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion online, by telephone or by mail through annualcreditreport.com. For all other requests, including a free report from a specialty bureau, contact the agency directly.
When to Review Your Report
There is no limit to how many times you can check your own credit report. Nolo recommends that you check your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports at least once a year. Nolo also recommends reviewing your report before purchasing or refinancing your home or a car. If you plan to rent a new apartment or apply for insurance, you should also check with specialty reporting agencies such as Lexus Nexis Personal Reports and the Medical Information Bureau. Because these agencies compile credit information specific to your rental history, insurance claims and medical payments, a potential landlord or private insurance company may base decisions on this information instead of, or in addition to, reports from the major credit bureaus.
Getting Your Credit Score
Credit bureaus will require payment if you ask to see your credit report more than once per year or outside of a special situation such as being denied a credit application. Since a free credit report does not include a credit score, you will also need to pay to see your credit score. As of January 2015, the FTC does not allow any agency to charge more than $11.50 to see your credit report. At the same time, there are no restrictions on paying for a credit score. As of January 2015, fees for a single credit report and score range from $15.95 to $19.95.
How Inquiries Affect Your Credit Score
Unlike a credit inquiry from a potential creditor, which can lower your credit score by one to five points, checking your own credit report will not affect your credit score. This is because credit bureaus classify a request from you as unrelated to a new financial commitment. In contrast, credit bureaus consider a request from a potential creditor as a sign that you may be taking on an additional financial obligation, which in turn may affect your ability to repay other debts.
- Federal Trade Commission: In FTC Study, Five Percent of Consumers Had Errors on Their Credit Reports That Could Result in Less Favorable Terms for Loans
- Bankrate: How Credit Inquiries Affect Credit Score
- Nolo: How Often Should I Check My Credit Report?
- Nolo: Getting Credit Reports from Specialty Consumer Reporting Agencies
- AnnualCreditReport.com: Get Yours Now
- Nolo: Getting Additional Free Credit Reports
Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.