I’ve talked at length in the past about how your credit score is determined and why it’s important. Aside from paying your bills on time, one of the biggest things you can do to protect your credit score is to keep a close eye on your credit report.
While you’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. Take, for example, our run-in last year with a wayward collections agency.
When we first discovered the problem, we burned through our free credit reports trying to figure out what was going on. We then needed to monitor the situation until it was resolved, so we ended up using free trial of a credit report service to figure things out.
Given the above, I thought I’d put together a list of options for getting your credit report for free:
1. Get it The Old-Fashioned Way
You can go to annualcreditreport.com to get one free credit report once per year from each of the three major reporting bureaus. You don’t have to get all three reports at the same time. So, a good option is to pull one credit report every three or four months, to space them out over the course of the year.
This is especially true if you’re on the lookout for fraudulent accounts opened in your name. If a thief opens an account with a major credit issuer, it should show up on all of your reports.
Of course, this sort of lax monitoring isn’t ideal if you’re at real risk of credit fraud. If you’ve recently noticed something fishy or have been the victim of identity theft, check out option 2.
2. Place a Fraud Alert (or a Freeze) on Your Credit Report
If you do think you’ve been a victim or target of credit fraud, put a fraud alert on your file. To do this, just call one of the three bureaus. They’ll notify the other two.
This alert stays on your report for about three months. During that time, potential lenders will ask for additional identification for someone attempting to open an account in your name.
Plus, when you place a fraud alert, you may be entitled to a free hard copy of your credit report. Check out the quiz on this website to see if this applies to you.
Another option is to place a freeze on your credit. This is something you’ll need to do with each of the three bureaus separately and often involves a fee (around $10-15), but really locks up your credit. In order for a lender to pull your information to open a new account, you will have to lift the freeze.
To learn more about freezing your credit and see whether it’s what you need, check out this guide.
3. Check with Your Credit Card Issuer
More and more credit card companies are offering their customers a free monthly credit report and credit score. Currently, twelve companies offer their customers this perk. If you’re in the market for a brand new credit card, this is one benefit to be on the lookout for.
One thing to keep in mind here is where the credit score comes from. Many credit card issuer programs use your FICO score, which is still the one that lenders are most likely to use. But some use alternatives, like the VantageScore. And each program uses your credit report information from one of the three bureaus.
Resource: Why Credit Scores Differ
If you’re simply trying to monitor your overall credit picture, it doesn’t matter much. But if you want to keep tabs on all three bureau’s credit reports, look into this information.
4. Try a Free Score Estimator Site
Credit score estimators were once known to be largely inaccurate and not that useful. Plus, simply estimating your score doesn’t always tell you exactly what’s on your credit report. (They’re not the same thing!)
With that said, many of these sites, including Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Quizzle will give you an accurate estimation of your credit information. These sites will pull your most recent credit report, and they’ll give you a large chunk of that information (for free).
You’ll be able to see your account balances and more as they appear on your credit report. Then, they give you your credit score, too. You can even track your credit score over time, or get advice on how to improve your score.
5. Check with Credit Reporting Bureaus
The FACT act may allow you to get a free copy of your credit report in certain extenuating circumstances. For instance, if you lost your job and are getting ready to job hunt, you might be eligible. Some states also have free credit report programs with varying eligibility requirements.
Learn More: Six Reasons You Should Review Your Credit Report
These free credit report options may or may not provide you with your current credit score. But it’s increasingly easy to get your hands on a copy of your score, too. So, whether you’re keeping an eye out for fraud or just looking to improve your credit, getting your report and score for free has never been easier!