Go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
This website is the only federally approved place to get a copy of your credit report. Every 12 months, you are entitled to one free report from each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax
. A credit bureau, or consumer reporting agency, is a company that collects and stores information on individual consumers in credit reports. They receive the information from financial institutions and lenders that report it to them.
Choose from which bureau you’d like your free credit report.
Since you can receive three credit reports for free every 12 months, spread them out over the year. Pull one every four months. It doesn’t matter which credit bureau you choose first, just write it down so you will remember to choose a different one next time.
Fill out the verification form.
Credit bureaus require you to undergo an identity verification process before you can receive your credit report. In addition to giving your Social Security Number, you’ll be asked multiple-choice questions related to your credit report. You may be asked to identify the name of your current or former mortgage lender or choose your correct past mailing address, for instance. Another, perhaps obvious, identifying piece of information is your name. But remember that the information on your credit report may be different from your current information. For instance, if you’ve changed your name, your report could still be filed under your former name. If your report can’t be located, consider searching using a previous name, such as your maiden name.
Print out and read your entire credit report and highlight any questionable or erroneous data.
Credit bureaus sometimes make mistakes, and those mistakes can negatively affect your overall credit health. Make note of any errors you find in your report. Keep an eye out for:
- Incorrect personal information, such as an address you don’t recognize
- Erroneous account details, such as an incorrect credit limit
- Mistaken accounts, such as one that actually belongs to a family member, not you
- Fraudulent accounts, which include accounts you don’t recognize as yours
- Any other unfamiliar items, such as a late payment on an account you know you’ve never paid late
If you find errors, dispute them with the credit bureau.
Not everyone will have errors, but if you do, you’ll have to contact both the credit bureau and the company or institution that provided the erroneous information to the bureau. Check out the FTC
’s guidelines for filing a dispute with the credit bureaus; they include a sample dispute letter to help you get started.
Make special note of errors that appear to be identity theft or fraud.
Some red flags may be accounts that were opened before you were of legal age and accounts you don’t even recognize. If you find one of these errors, follow the FTC
’s guidelines for identity theft victims, which include, among other steps, freezing accounts that have been tampered with and placing fraud alerts on your credit reports.
Follow up on any disputes.
Credit bureaus are required to investigate your dispute within 30 days of receiving your notification. If a month or two has passed, but you haven’t heard anything back about your dispute, contact the credit bureau(s) again to get an update.
Check your report again, with another bureau, in four months.
Mark it on your calendar to remind yourself when it’s time to check your report again. If you want to monitor your credit report on a daily basis, you can do so with Credit Karma
. Sign up for the free credit monitoring service and you’ll be notified by email when something important changes in your TransUnion credit report, like a new account or new hard credit inquiry.