You may be able to get free copies of your credit reports in addition to those made available annually on AnnualCreditReport.com. I’m not talking about free-but-you-get-billed-if-you-don’t-cancel offers. These are additional free copies that credit reporting agencies are required to provide under state or federal law, if you qualify.
The first trick is knowing when you are entitled to these free copies of your reports. The second is figuring out how to request them. It’s not easy. I spent a lot of time wading through pages of sales pitches on the credit reporting agency’s web sites to track down the information in this article. Hopefully I’ve made it a lot easier for you than it was for me.
In most but not all cases, you can order your reports online, by mail or over the phone. Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, recommends you order your reports by mail. She warns that the security questions used to screen consumers who request their reports online can “trip people up.” In addition, when you request a report online, you may be agreeing to settle any disputes using mandatory arbitration, which prevents you from going to court if there is a problem you can’t resolve.
Here are the instances under which you can request these reports, and how to do so:
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if it is used by a lender, employer, landlord, insurer or other business to take “adverse action” against you. Adverse action is an action that is unfavorable to you. It can include turning you down for credit, insurance or employment; not giving you the best available rate on credit or insurance; requiring you to place a larger deposit when you rent an apartment or get a cell phone plan; or requiring a cosigner on a lease, for example. Your credit report doesn’t have to be the primary factor in the adverse action decision; if it played a role at all you are entitled to a disclosure at no cost.
Number of free reports: One each time you are sent an adverse action notice from the credit reporting agency that supplied your report. You have 60 days to request your free copy.
How to request your report: The lender, insurer, or employer must send you an adverse action notice telling you which agency your report was obtained from, as well as how to request your free copy.
Fraud alerts are used to help protect your credit information. With a fraud alert on your file, a creditor or other business receiving your file should investigate further before extending credit or other benefits. If you place a fraud alert on your credit report, the consumer reporting agency must give you a free copy of your report. I don’t recommend placing a fraud alert on your credit reports just to take advantage of this, but if you do suspect you are a victim of fraud, it’s important to review your reports for unauthorized activity.
Number of free reports: One, in the case of a standard fraud alert, or two in the twelve months after you place an extended fraud alert, from each agency with which you placed the alert.
How to request your report: When you place the fraud alert on your credit reports, you will be given instructions for requesting your free file disclosure(s). See the ordering instructions at the end of this article.
Separately, the FCRA gives you the right to request a free copy of your report if you certify to the credit reporting agency that you have reason to believe your credit file contains inaccurate information due to fraud. You do not have to place a fraud alert to request this copy.
Number of free reports: One from each major credit reporting agency.
How to request your report: See the ordering instructions at the end of this article.
Several states have laws that require nationwide credit reporting agencies to give residents free copies of their credit reports. These are in addition to the free annual reports made available through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Number of free reports: If you live in Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey or Vermont, you are entitled to one free report per year under state law. Georgia and Puerto Rico residents get three free copies per year.
How to request your report: See the ordering instructions section of this article.
Lost your job? You are entitled to a free copy of your report if you are unemployed and certify to the credit reporting agency that you intend to apply for employment within 60 days.
Number of free reports: One from each major credit reporting agency.
How to request your reports: See the ordering instructions below.
By Phone: 800-685-1111
Equifax Information Services
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
When requesting a credit report by mail, Equifax indicates that you should include your full name, current address, Social Security Number, and most recent former address so it can match your file. State the reason you are requesting your free copy of your report as well.
Tip: Equifax’s online ordering system, while convenient, requires you to agree to mandatory arbitration to settle any disputes that arise. For that reason, I recommend you order your report by mail.
You can request your free report due to fraud, or under state law, at this website. Other requests must be made by mail. The online system identifies whether you are eligible for a free report under state law.
By Phone: 866-200-6020
You can order a copy of your free report due to fraud or under state law using the telephone system. If you are ordering a free copy of your state-mandated free report by phone, Experian’s automated telephone request systems automatically recognizes your location by the area code from which you are calling. (If you are calling from a cell phone with an out-of-state area code, call from a different phone.)
PO Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
State why you are requesting your free report and include first name, middle initial, last name; current address and previous addresses for last 2 years with zip codes; date of birth; Social Security number; one copy of a government-issued ID card (driver’s license, military ID, etc.); one legible copy of a recent utility bill, bank or insurance statement with your current address.
Online: A request form to print, fill out and mail is available here
By Phone: 800-888-4213
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
Include the form you download online. In addition, TransUnion requests that you include the following information to expedite your request: proof of address, e.g, utility bill; copy of adverse action letter if you received one; copy of police report in the event of fraud.
Tip: The phone system can be confusing. There are multiple prompts to purchase a credit score or credit monitoring service. In addition, there is no indication whether the free report requested through this number counts toward the report available through AnnualCreditReport.com. For that reason, I recommend you print the order form online, and request your copy by mail.