BOSTON (CBS) – Every time you have heard me talking about credit reports you have made a mental note to check yours. But when was the last time you actually checked your credit report?
There is no excuse for not checking on a regular basis. It’s free! An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the large reporting companies to provide you with an annual free copy of your credit report, at your request.
You can get your free report by logging onto annualcreditreport.com. This central site allows you to request your credit report, once every 12 months from each of the large credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
A word of caution. There are many look alike websites out there. Use only annualcreditreport.com The law now requires commercial websites that say they offer free credit reports to include a box letting you know you can get a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
You can also call 877-322-8228 or try snail mail. You will need to get on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website and download a form: Annual Credit Report Request and mail it in to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. I know they make you jump through hoops. The easiest way to get your credit report is to do it online. You will need to give them your social security number.
It is important to be checking your credit report and credit scores at least annually. And they will be different from each of the reporting agencies for they have access to different data about you. So you do need to check all three.
Now you can get your credit report for free but you will need to pay for a copy of your credit scores. Usually the credit reporting companies will offer you your credit score when you are getting your free credit report.
Reviewing your credit report is your first line of defense against identity theft. Are there any unauthorized cards or loans on your history? Different address than your home? These may be an indication that someone else is using your social security number.
Also many people want to take a look at your credit report so you want to be sure it’s up to date and correct. If you find an error it is your responsibility to fix it. First try the online options to see if that resolves it, follow up with snail mail and lots of phone calls. A simple error can be very costly for you.
Case in point, insurance companies, life, auto and house, are now looking at your credit report and credit scores. If you have a low score you might have to pay more for insurance.
Beware of any the websites that offer free credit scores. Most are a come on for another product such as ID theft monitoring or credit insurance.