The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises checking your credit at least once a year to guard against informational errors and identity theft. Incorrect or suspicious activity can alert you if something is afoot. Federal law requires each of the three credit reporting bureaus--Experian, Equifax and TransUnion--to provide you with your credit report, free of charge, once a year.
Determine the method you would like to use to obtain your free annual credit report. The FTC notes that you can accomplish this in one of three ways: online, over the phone or through the mail.
Go to annualcreditreport.com to obtain your report online. After you follow the prompts, which include entering basic information about yourself and verifying your identity, you will be able to view your credit report from all three agencies online. The FTC explains that you can choose to view only one or two of your reports at a time. This will allow you to come back at a later date in the same year to review the remaining reports for free.
You can also obtain your free annual credit report by calling 1-877-322-8228. Alternatively, as of March 2010, you can download the "Annual Credit Report Request form" available at the FTC's website, complete it, and mail it to the following address: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. This will allow you to secure your credit report via the United States Postal Service.
Look over your report upon receipt. It includes various personal information. Be sure that your name is correct, your address is current and your employment information is accurate. Your credit summary shows information, such as total debt, delinquencies and public records. Your credit history lists all of your accounts, noting amount owed, minimum payments and payment history, including if you have been past due on bills 30, 60, 90, 120 or more days. It also shows recent inquiries made to your credit file.
Follow the instructions that come with your report to dispute information you believe is inaccurate. The FTC notes that the credit bureaus are required to provide these instructions.
The FTC advises you to dispute errors on your credit report by notifying the credit reporting agency of the suspected misinformation. You must do this in writing. The credit reporting agency has 30 days to respond to your claim, unless it is frivolous.
You can obtain more than one credit report from each of the three bureaus within a year by paying for additional reports. The FTC sets a maximum charge of $10.50, as of March 2010, for reports ordered directly from one of the three bureaus beyond your free annual report. You can receive these additional reports by contacting the credit reporting agencies directly.
Kimberly Lankford, contributing editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, ensures that checking your credit report will not impact your credit score.
Use AnnualCreditReport.com because it is the only source authorized by the federal government for free annual credit reports. Other websites and services offer free credit reports, but the FTC cautions that not all of them are legitimate. Some require you to purchase other products and services--often requiring recurring monthly charges--in order for you to receive your score.
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