BOSTON (CBS) – They are free! Do not pay for them!

Federal law requires each of the large reporting companies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, to provide you with an annual free copy of your credit report, at your request.

You can get your free report by logging on to This central site allows you to request a free credit report, once every 12 months from each of the large credit reporting companies.

You can also do it by snail mail but you’ll need to still get online at the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website and download the form. You want the Annual Credit Report Request and mail it in to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.  Or you can call 877-322-8228.

It is important to be checking your credit report at least annually. Why? Because incorrect information can screw up your credit score, mess with your ability to get a loan, and the best reason to review your credit history is Identity Theft. If someone is using your Social Security number and name it will probably show up on your credit report as an account you never heard of.

I would recommend spreading out your free credit reports by requesting just one every 4 months. Equifax this month, in 4 months Experian, and in 8 months TransUnion.

Your credit history will be slightly different from each of the reporting agencies for they have access to different data about you. Very few of your creditors report to all three agencies. So you do need to check all three for they don’t share their information.

Over 50% of credit reports do have errors. It took me several years to repair several errors on my credit report. At one point they had 8 different addresses for me. They had me moving often and living in 8 different places which does not bode well if a creditor is looking for stability.

The source of the errors was my kids. They both attended college in Boston and then lived in the area after graduation. As college students they moved every year. I was able to correct most of the errors online rather than using snail mail. If you find errors on your report, fix them.

If you have teenagers, check their credit history. Identity theft doesn’t just happen to grown ups! Anyone with a social security number is vulnerable. And there have been many cases where an estranged parent steals their kid’s Social Security number and uses it because their credit history is so bad.

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