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.
[Related: How to Order Your Free Annual Credit Report]
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.
[Consumer resource: How to Correct an Error on a Credit Report]
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.