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TOP OF THE CLASS - Getting Your Free Annual Credit Report

Which law entitles you to receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from the three nationwide credit reporting companies?

A: The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs how credit bureaus maintain, share and correct information on credit reports. The law was enacted in 1970, but a 2003 amendment gave consumers the ability to receive a free copy of their credit report every 12 months from the three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

Your financial health is just as important as your mental and physical health. Do you visit your doctor for a check-up every year? You should do the same for your finances. The TOP OF THE CLASS has some important things to keep in mind when reviewing your credit report:

credit card

GOT TO BE REAL: The only site authorized by federal law to provide you with free copies of your credit report is Don’t be duped by other sites with the word “free” in their name. Despite the word “free,” you will be asked to provide your credit card information and sign up for a service. If you don’t cancel in time, the “free” service will convert to a paid one.

TO BE FREE: Visit or call 1-877-322-8228 to request free copies of your reports. You can also mail your request to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Don’t contact each of the credit reporting companies directly. They are only providing free annual reports through the website, phone number and mailing address listed above.

MAGIC NUMBER: The free credit reports don’t contain your credit score. However, you can purchase your score for a fee from the three credit reporting bureaus. While each has their own credit scores, the FICO (Fair Issac Corporation) score is the most widely used credit scoring system. Lenders use the number to assess the risk you pose to them before deciding if they will give you credit.

WHO AM I: You will be asked a series of security questions in order to access the reports. What year did you refinance the mortgage on your home? Did you ever live on ABC Lane? Have that information handy. If you answer any questions incorrectly, you will be locked out and prevented from receiving your report. This security is in place to prevent thief from accessing your information. But all is not lost! The credit reporting bureaus each have instructions on what you can do to access the reports. In order to verify your identification and address, you will be asked to mail one copy of an identity card (Social Security card, pay stub or W2 form).

LOOK ME OVER: Even if you have good credit, you should check your credit reports at least once a year. The information is used by more than just banks for loans. Employers may review your credit report when you’re applying for a job. Landlords may check your credit when you’re renting an apartment.

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT: Credit reports can indicate if you have been a victim of fraud or identity theft. If you find any errors, contact the credit reporting company in writing. It doesn’t cost anything to dispute mistakes or outdated information. Consumer reporting agencies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information within 30 days. Consumer reporting agencies are also not allowed to report any outdated or negative information more than 7 years old or bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old. You must also give consent for your reports to be provided to employers.

NOW’S THE TIME: Are you making a big purchase such as a home? It might make sense to request all three reports at the same time. You wouldn’t want a blemish on your record to prevent your purchase. If you suspect your information may have been compromised, it might want to stagger your requests. This way you can be on the lookout for any suspicious activity throughout the year.

The School Bell has rung! Class dismissed!

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