There are several reasons why you need to keep tabs on your credit report and credit score. These include simply keeping tabs on what your score is, learning how your score is derived, identifying problem areas with your credit score, removing inaccuracies or mistakes from your report and avoiding fraud and identity theft. Thankfully these days it’s quite easy to get a free credit report gov on an annual basis (or even more frequently). You can request your annual credit report from each of the big three credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Experian and Equifax) individually, or you can use one of the services that will provide all three agencies scores to you. In the long run it’s your choice, I hope to give you enough information here to make your decision easier.
The Big 3 Credit Reporting Agencies and FICO
You may have heard the term “FICO Score” before and wondered how this score is determined. It is a compilation of the three scores from the top credit agencies; Transunion, Experian and Equifax. Each agency calculates the score a bit differently, so using a combination of all three to determine a FICO score is the most effective way for banks and other lenders to determine your credit worthiness. The FICO score ranges from 300 to 850 and it is typically accepted that a score above 650 indicates a positive credit history. FICO is an acronym for Fair Isaac Corporation, the company who developed the scoring system.
In addition to creating credit scores, each of the three major credit reporting agencies offer access to your free annual credit report through www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Take note that it is only your credit report they are required by law to provide, they are not required to provide a free credit score and when requesting a free credit report that is all you get. They also offer paid services to monitor your credit score, get credit and fraud alerts and protect yourself against identity theft with insurance. They are also the ones to contact if you wish to put a freeze on your credit report or if you have a dispute about information on your credit report. Overall, they are very good at what they do, although they can be a bit more expensive than other similar services. It should be noted that in the U.S. the credit bureaus are required by law to provide consumers with their annual credit report free of charge once every 12 months.
Free Annual Credit Reports and The FACT Act
FACT Act is an acronym for The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) which was developed to help consumers be more aware of their credit history and to give them access to the same data that lenders look at when making a loan decision. It is a revision of the prior Fair Credit Reporting Act which was passed in 1970 and governs the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information, including consumer credit information. The FACT Act allows each individual to obtain a free copy of the information in their credit file once every 12 months. Consumers are entitled to copies of records from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies and these records are made available through a central source, currently www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Those who do not have access to the website can also request the credit information through www.FTC.gov or by calling 877-FACT-ACT.
The FACT Act was signed into law in December 2003 and became effective on December 1, 2005. As of that date all consumers are eligible to request a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months.
Other Sources for Free Credit Report & Scores
As far as the obligatory once a year free credit report goes, www.annualcreditreport.com is the official central source set up by the credit reporting agencies to distribute the required annual credit reports for free. For some, this once a year report is enough to keep tabs on their credit score and credit history. Others like to be more informed and for this group there are a number of sites that provide credit monitoring, fraud alert and identity theft protection services. Let’s look at several of your options:
Each of the big three agencies provide credit monitoring, fraud alert and identity protection insurance for a small monthly fee. Since these are the agencies providing the scores you can be pretty sure you’ll be getting accurate, timely and complete information. They all offer free trials thru their various vendor services during their free trial. Basically asking you to try out their credit monitoring service for a given period – 7 days, 30 days, etc. In exchange, you receive a free credit report and/or score. Depending on the service, you get to see your credit data only from one credit bureau – TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax. Other vendors will provide all 3 credit bureau reports and scores for free. The big thing to remember is, although it’s your right to receive a free annual credit report, you won’t get to see your credit score for free. You usually have to pay the individual credit bureaus for this previlege. So these free trial offers do have their benefits. If you don’t feel you want to continue with the credit monitoring service, you just cancel during the trial period. Otherwise you will be charged.
Types of Free Trial Offer Services
A few are well known for their catchy television and radio advertisements. Many only provide a free credit report from one credit bureau. While this can be useful information to have, your lenders may access more than one credit bureau for your credit data. You also have companies that are known primarily for providing identity theft protection instead of offering free credit reports. But they often have free trial offers where you can try out their identity theft service and you receive a free credit report and score in exchange.
As mentioned before, some people will find that they don’t require a complete credit monitoring solution and the once yearly free report is sufficient for them. But many credit experts believe it makes more sense to monitor your credit history on a semi-annual or quarterly basis. If you feel like you would sleep better at night with a solution like this in place then the suggestions above are a great place to start your search.
Whatever your situation, you should consider making it a point to access your free credit report at least on an annual basis. It’s your right as a consumer and it’s possible you’ll find there is some discrepancies or misinformation in there. This isn’t unusual and can negatively impact your lending ability and the rates you get when you do take out loans. Correcting an inaccurate credit history can save you literally thousands of dollars in the long run. So why not take a few minutes to get your free credit report and review it. At the very least it will provide you peace of mind knowing everything is in order. And if you are planning on making a large purchase within the next 2 years now can be a great time to start making improvements to your credit score.