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Is That Credit Report Really Free?

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You know you’re supposed to review your credit, and you’ve even heard that you can do so for free. But is anything in life really free? Turns out, your credit reports are.

Yes, that’s right, you really can get your credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — for free. In fact, federal law requires these three bureaus to give consumers a free copy of their reports once a year. There are several sites where you can get your reports, but the only one where you can get the free ones you’re entitled to is AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s a good idea to pull your reports from each of the three main bureaus, as they generally don’t share information with each other (and lenders don’t always report to all three). When you check your credit reports, review them for any errors or fraudulent accounts and dispute any problems you see.

What to Watch Out For

As we mentioned, there are several sites where you can get your reports, and they may even claim they’re providing your reports for free too. But, as Bruce McClary, the vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, warns, you need to read the fine print.

“Sometimes free credit report and score offers are linked to fee-based services, like credit monitoring or credit protection insurance,” McClary said in an email. “The credit report isn’t really free when you have to pay for something else in order to have access.”

Keeping an Eye on Your Credit Year-Round

Even though you are entitled to one free copy of your reports each year that doesn’t mean you have to only look at your credit once every 12 months and call it good. Once you’ve done a thorough review of your reports, you can space your requests out every four months to keep a closer eye on your credit profile. You can also see two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.

If you aren’t happy with your scores, there are steps you can take to improve them, like paying down any debts and limiting the number of inquiries you make until your scores rebound.

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