What to Do If You Can’t Get Your Free Annual Credit Report

By Steven Shaw on 7/8/2015

Credit 101

What to Do If You Can’t Get Your Free Annual Credit Report

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Let’s talk about free credit reports. First of all, the big question: Are they really free? Yep. Federal law requires the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to give consumers a free copy of their credit reports every year (here’s how to get yours). You can get credit reports from many places, but AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website where you can get the ones you’re entitled by federal law to receive for free.

It can be as simple as going to that site, confirming your identity by answering a few questions and choosing which bureau’s report you want to see. Boom: You’ll have a credit report in front of your face, ready to print out or save, in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

However, if that hasn’t been your experience when requesting your credit reports, you’re not alone. If the credit bureau can’t verify your identity using your answers to the security questions, you won’t get access to your credit report online. Yeah, that’s annoying, and it’s easy to let that roadblock discourage you from requesting your reports, but it’s a security feature: Your credit report has a boatload of information you wouldn’t want to end up in the wrong hands (like your Social Security number, full name and address, to name a few).

If your online request is rejected, you’ll see instructions for how to get your free report through the U.S. Postal Service. You’ll have to send some documents verifying your identity, fill out a paper request form and mail it in, and you’ll receive a paper copy of your credit report days later.

This is not going to be the most thrilling activity on your to-do list, but it’s an important thing to check off. You need to frequently review your credit reports for errors or signs of fraud, because either of those things could derail your attempts to get any kind of credit, an apartment or basic services like Internet or electricity (utility companies sometimes make people with less-than-perfect credit pay a deposit in order to start services). If you’re planning to buy a car or home in the near future, it’s crucial you go into the process with the best credit standing you can muster, because your approval and the cost of the loan rely heavily on your credit history.

You can only get one free credit report from each credit reporting agency per year (though you may qualify for more). If you want to check your credit more often, you can get a free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com. With the number of free resources available, there’s no reason to not know what’s going on with your credit history. It may not always be as simple as you’d like it to be (it usually is), but making the effort to understand your credit standing can save you from the frustration of credit report surprises later on.

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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi