With so many news stories about credit card breaches and identity theft, it's no wonder that more people are interested in monitoring their credit history. It's also a useful practice for people that have had credit issues, whether those problems were a result of the sluggish economy or not fully understanding the need for responsible spending.
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), there is now a federal law that allows consumers to request a free credit report every year. The top three credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union - participate in this offer and provide a comprehensive record of your credit history.
A simple search for "free credit reports" on the Google search engine produces 67 million results in 0.18 seconds. That's as frightening as it is impressive, because you know that 1. Not all of those services are actually free and 2. Not all of those services are even legitimate.
So, where to begin?
It's essential for your safety that you do more than just click on a site that says "free." You'll want to be aware of a few common concerns:
Other ways a company will entice you by using the word free is to offer that no cost service as a kind of introductory rate, much like a credit card. However, those terms are always temporary and the actual cost may soar when the offer has expired.
However, during the research for legitimate free credit reports, a service that comes up on multiple sites is AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the official website established by the federal government. This service is reliable and works with the main three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. This is important because those three agencies are what all big lenders (auto dealers, mortgage bankers, etc.) consult when you're applying for credit. And though it's counter intuitive, the big three reporting agencies do not share information, so it's necessary to utilize the services of each one.
Another advantage to using the AnnualCreditReport site is they offer additional information on correcting discrepancies and identity theft.
Your credit report provides a detailed history of how you have acquired and handled debt. People are more concerned with keeping their status creditworthy because often landlords and potential employers, along with new lenders, check your credit report as a kind of "reference." Specifically it can be useful to see if there are any judgements against you or loan defaults.
Because your credit reports contain a comprehensive history of your debt, the kind of information to appear on a credit report can include:
There may also be information on unpaid utilities or medical bills.
As you apply for new credit of almost any kind this report will help the new lender decide whether or not your request will be approved.
Many people worry that checking their own credit score will hurt their credit. The misunderstanding occurs by confusing the types of inquiries on a person's credit history.
When you check your own credit score that's known as a "soft" inquiry. It's considered "soft" or non-threatening because that review doesn't have anything to do with changing your current credit status.
"Hard inquiries" are the result of you applying for additional or new credit - including a new loan. Each time a lender pulls your credit report in response to that application a hard inquiry is registered on your report. Examples of credit requests that will result in a hard inquiry are:
Hard inquiries will stay on your credit report for two years. However, there's an exception if you're applying for an auto loan or a mortgage, as most people will do some preliminary negotiating or seek pre approval in order to get the best deal. Then those new hard inquiries don't show up for 45 days.
In short, getting that free credit report is a way for you to view your history and see your current credit rating. However, this practice also makes it possible for you to see any change in your credit status and be aware of any discrepancies or fraudulent activity.
Don't apply for your free credit report online in any public area with free wifi. You're just asking for trouble. Experts advise to steer clear of any offers for free credit reports that you receive - either by email, snail mail, or phone. Snail mail offers are the least intrusive and can be considered junk mail. Most people already know not to pursue such offers. Phone propositions are also easy to avoid, although some people do get caught off guard. The scam that has the potential to be the biggest threat is the email offer. Companies that present such attractive opportunities are usually fishing for your personal data, including social security number or bank accounts. Even opening the link could be problematic if the email contains malware designed to hack into your computer.
What are the common warning signs for identity theft?
If you do receive any unsolicited offers, the Federal Trade Commission suggests you report the incident.
If you really want to play it safe, call for your credit reports rather than ordering them online. You can contact Annual Credit Report at 1 (877) 322-8228. You will not speak to a live person; rather, you will either enter your information on a push-tone key pad or speak it into the phone directly. To expedite your request, call from your home phone number, as the automated phone line relies on this information to identify you.
As long as you are careful to access your online credit report through a reputable credit reporting company, you are safe. In fact, the credit reporting bureaus point out that you may be more vulnerable to identity theft when your credit report is mailed to you. There's a greater likelihood that your "snail mail" credit report could be mis-delivered to a wrong address by a mail carrier or intercepted by a thief.
By working with our lenders, you could end up saving up to 20% on your repayment, and eliminate the risk of being taken advantage of.
Get A Free Quote! - Find out how much you can get before going to a store.