Are the best things in life really free?
Money can score you a lot of great stuff. Usually more money equals better stuff, but when it comes to your credit report, the old adage is completely accurate: the best credit reports you can get are 100% free.
Seriously? Free? Yes. Free!
Thanks to a federal law passed in 1970, the three major credit bureaus are each required to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports on an annual basis.
As a result of that law we have a beautiful, and underutilized resource, known as the Annual Credit Report Request Service (ACR). Or as it is more commonly known, annualcreditreport.com.
What’s the catch?
The website is indeed completely free, but the process of pulling your reports can be a bit clumsy.
For starters, you might have to dig up some personal information (like an address you lived at 10 years ago) and you may have to enter said information 3 different times in order to request each of your three separate reports.
You’ll also be asked a few trick questions about your credit history. Don’t be afraid to answer “None of the above” where applicable.
As irritating as the process may be, don't let it deter you. ACR is simply doing it's due diligence to verify your identity. If you take your time and read the instructions the whole process will only take about 15 minutes.
Pro tip: If you’re told that you need to request a report by mail, call their automated line instead: 877-322-8228
Some Mistakes to Avoid
Make sure you’re using the right website. There are tons of name alike sites out there. If you’re being asked for any kind of payment info you’re in the wrong place.
Play it safe and follow any one of the ten live links in this article to find the correct service.
Also, make sure you save all 3 of your reports before closing them. Users of ACR commonly open the pop-up windows showing their credit reports, take a look, and then close the windows without saving. For the love of God don't do that!
What should I look for on my reports?
For starters, search for errors. Simple errors in your personal information (your name, social security number, or date of birth) are very common on credit reports. Credit bureaus mostly screw this stuff up due to the sheer volume of information they’re processing. And also because they don't give a sh*t.
From the top down: George Foreman Jr, George Foreman III, George Foreman, George Foreman IV, George Foreman V, and Georgetta Foreman. These poor children. Photo courtesy of mom.me.
Unfortunately a simple error relating to your identity can cause damaging information to appear on your reports. Pro tip: Don’t name your kids after you. Identity mix-ups are very common for Jr's... I'm looking at you George Foreman.
You’ll also want to check for incorrect credit information. If a report mistakenly shows that you’ve missed a credit payment it could be costing your FICO score up to 100 points.
You have a right to dispute any incorrect information you find, at no cost to you. You never, ever have to pay credit repair companies- aka bottom feeders - to do this for you.
Each report you pull with have specific instructions on how to contact the appropriate credit bureau in order to file your dispute.
Finally, make sure you carefully review everything. You may find an old debt that you had forgotten about, or some other evidence of your checkered past. If you’re worried about making improvements or taking care of old debts calling debt collectors may be a bad idea. Reach out to a Credit Counselor first. I volunteer as tribute!
Why should I use ACR right now?
Our new congress is eager to put federal freebies on the chopping block. There’s been no indication that this specific service is in danger, but if ACR is eliminated then big business (a favorite of you-know-who) will get to start charging you again.
Generally speaking, now is always the best time to start working on your credit. If your scores are less than desirable it could take you a year or two to clean things up. Who knows where you’ll be a year from now. Perhaps you’ll be interested in buying a house and wishing you’d started working on this sooner.
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Need more help than that? I offer 15 minute assessments for free. I'm also available for Credit Review sessions, either in person or over the phone. Mention this blog article for a discounted price!
And in case you missed the info:
The Annual Credit Report Request Service
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