How To Get a Free Credit Report That’s Actually Free

One thing that just about everybody is concerned about is the state of their credit. Even if your finances are in great shape, you can find yourself having trouble getting loans for things like cars and houses if there’s a mistake on your credit report.

To make it easier for you to find those mistakes, Congress in 2003 passed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA, also known as the "FACT Act"). One of the key provisions of FACTA requires the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months, should you request it. After FACTA passed, it became common knowledge that you were entitled to a "free credit report".

But how do you get it? The answer is probably not what you think.

If you’ve turned on a TV anytime in the last few years, you’ve probably seen an ad for a site called FreeCreditReport.com (a site sponsored by the credit bureau Experian). The ads tell you that this is the place to go to get your free annual credit report.

What they don’t tell you (except in the fine print) is that FreeCreditReport.com’s reports aren’t actually free. To get them, you have to subscribe to a credit-monitoring service called "Triple Advantage" — which carries a monthly fee of $12.95/month.

In other words, FreeCreditReport.com is Experian’s attempt to take lemons — the requirement that they give consumers a free credit report — and make lemonade, by confusing you into thinking that you have to subscribe to their service to get your "free" report. Fostering that confusion is why Experian spends so much money advertising FreeCreditReport.com — they want you to think of that URL when you think "free credit report". After several years of saturation advertising, most people probably do.

You don’t need to pay anyone anything to get your free credit reports, if you know the right place to go.  Under the direction of the Federal Trade Commission, the three credit bureaus set up a central Web site where people could obtain the credit reports they’re entitled to under FACTA, without any bait and switch. That site is AnnualCreditReport.com, and it’s where you should go to get your credit reports.

Unsurprisingly, Experian doesn’t spend any money advertising this site. But the FTC says:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that, if you want to order your free annual credit report online, there is only one authorized website: annualcreditreport.com.

Many other websites claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring.” But, be careful. These sites are not part of the official annual free credit report program. And in some cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly “free” service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period ends. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.

In other words — don’t be suckered by a catchy jingle into giving Experian permission to rack up charges on your credit card. You’re entitled by law to a free credit report, and you can get it from one place only — AnnualCreditReport.com.

(And be sure you check your spelling; other unscrupulous parties are trying to pull their own bait and switch by setting up sites at addresses like AnnualCreidtReport.com — note the misspelling due to the switched "d" and "i" in "credit". My links above all point you to the right site.)

UPDATE (March 4, 2007): One other thing you should know is that the credit bureaus have found another way to make lemonade out of the free-credit-report law; if you request your free credit report, they put your name on the lists that they sell to the companies that send you all those annoying unsolicited credit card offers in the mail. (If you’ve used a credit card in your life, you’re probably already on those lists; but anything that could mean more of those letters is a pain.)

To help you out, I’ve also posted instructions on how to opt out of those lists so that you stop getting the unsolicited offers for "pre-approved" credit cards once and for all. 


Comments

Jeff

February 28, 2007
1:48 pm

Good post. Experian and freecreditreport.com have been repeatedly investigated and successfully sued. But it never stops their “business as usual.” Apparently they are still making a profit even after settling two lawsuits for $1.2 million.
It’s great that you’re making people aware of the real site for your free credit report:
http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
Jeff

Ginger

February 28, 2007
1:51 pm

I just got my very first free credit report thanks to you!! I always thought I’d eventually have to pay for it. They won’t give you that credit score number, though.

credit card friend

May 3, 2007
4:49 am

This year I tried to order my free credit report online for the first time. And I realized that it is really convinient and quick. It is possible once a year. That is great!

john

March 5, 2008
1:21 pm

thanks! super easy

Jake

May 23, 2008
3:53 pm

Thank you for this, quite helpful.

Nick

July 23, 2008
9:31 pm

I am glad I found this I have unknowingly been bamboozled and charged for years lets see, since about 2004 by freecreditreport.com and I didn’t even realize it. Grrr. Thank goodness there’s a REAL free credit report .com

ROSE SCOTT

August 9, 2008
2:18 am

THIS IS NOT FREE, JUST LIKE THE OTHER SITES,YOU ARE REQUIRED TO SIGN UP FOR A TRIAL MEMBERSHIP FOR CREDIT FRAUD……………..

Vicky

January 12, 2009
9:00 am

Yo this web site cost a dollar- why is it not possible to check your credit with out paying a dollar. when it says free

hayden

January 30, 2009
8:13 pm

I tried all three of your bureaus and NOT ONE OF THEM WAS FREE

Jason Lefkowitz

January 30, 2009
9:21 pm

“I tried all three of your bureaus and NOT ONE OF THEM WAS FREE”
As I said in the post, don’t go to the credit bureaus directly. The only way to get your free annual report is to go to
http://www.annualcreditreport.com/

Katie

April 6, 2009
5:21 pm

Is there a way to get a free credit score??

Vee

February 24, 2013
7:50 pm

I really appreciate your taking the time to share all the information in your post. Would you mind if I asked you a couple more detailed questions? Either way, thank you very very much and a have a great day.

Jason Lefkowitz

February 27, 2013
3:30 pm

Sure, my contact info is on the About Me page. Feel free to reach out.

ME

June 12, 2013
5:56 pm

http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ is NOT free! first of all the web site asks for all my info like i was really gonna get a “free credit report” but finally when I got to the end, no credit report & a request for a $8.00. This is the message I got….”f you are purchasing your credit report, enclose your check or money order for $8.00.
If you wish to purchase your VantageScore® report provided by Experian, enclose your check or money order for $7.95 (includes state sales tax where applicable). VantageScore is owned by VantageScore Solutions, LLC.
Mail this form, along with payment (if applicable) to:”

Jason Lefkowitz

June 12, 2013
6:30 pm

“http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ is NOT free!”

Yes it is. I just now used it and got a report free of charge.

Note that the site transfers you to one of the three credit bureaus to complete your request. If you click on other links on those sites, you may be presented with pitches to pay for additional services and reports. But as long as you follow the steps to get your free report and don’t go exploring the bureau sites, you won’t be presented with any charges or fees.

If you see anything referring to a credit score (like the “VantageScore®” thing you referred to), you’re not in the right place. The free annual credit report does not include a credit score.

Random Person

February 28, 2014
9:22 am

Actually if you look at the bottom it says on that website that they do not actually give you your credit score….derrrr….so this article is actually false bro

Jason Lefkowitz

February 28, 2014
11:27 am

Actually if you look at the bottom it says on that website that they do not actually give you your credit score….derrrr….so this article is actually false bro

Actually it isn’t, bro. A credit report and your credit score are different things.

A credit report is a summary of all the problems currently reducing your creditworthiness. It helps you improve your credit by showing you what factors are dragging it down, so you can fix them.

A credit score is a numerical shorthand used by credit bureaus and other companies to summarize the current state of your credit. There’s actually no such thing as a single credit score for you; different companies use different methods to rate your creditworthiness, so they all have different scores. The most commonly used credit score in the U.S. is called the FICO score.

While you are entitled by law to a free credit report, which this post explains how to get, you are not entitled to a free copy of any vendor’s score for you. In practice that’s not as big a loss as it probably seems; if your credit report is clean, you can assume your scores are most likely high, while if it’s full of problems the scores are probably low. And a credit report tells you how to fix the problems with your credit, while a score just tells you that your credit is bad and leaves it at that.

Still, if you absolutely must have a number, various companies will sell you access to different types of credit scoring. Fair Isaac (the “FI” in “FICO”), for instance, will sell you access to your FICO score at MyFICO.com. It’s not cheap, though; if you want to see your score from all three big credit bureaus, that’ll set you back $60. At least Fair Isaac is customer-friendly enough to make that a one-time charge, though, unlike the shady “free credit report” vendors who make you sign up for recurring subscription fees in the hope you’ll forget you did so and pay them $X per month until the heat death of the universe.


Recently on Just Well Mixed

Pardon the dust (August 25, 2015)

For the first time in something like seven years, I’ve done some remodeling around here

Your daily Zorroscope (August 10, 2015)

Advice for life’s everyday challenges, especially those involving treacherous Californio noblemen

With Windows 10, Microsoft sells you out (July 31, 2015)

Tech can empower users, or it can sell them out. And with Windows 10, you’re not the master Microsoft is interested in serving anymore

Jason recommends: “Mr. Robot” (July 30, 2015)

USA’s new cyber-drama is quickly establishing itself as the best new show of the year

Book review: “Ready Player One” (July 29, 2015)

I got the feeling reading Ready Player One that my memories were being used to sell me something that couldn’t sell itself