There are three main companies that compile credit reports: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They typically don’t share information with each other, and the data each one collects and reports may be different as a result. That’s why it’s a good idea to review your reports with each of these agencies so you know where you stand. You can get your credit reports free once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com and access two of your free credit scores with updates every month, here on Credit.com. Checking your scores will not harm them in any way, nor will looking at your reports.
When you order by phone or mail, you will receive your annual credit report via mail within two to three weeks. When you order online, you should be able to access it immediately. You must order your real annual credit report using one of the methods listed above, not directly from the credit bureaus or through any other websites. Note that all the credit bureaus have some type of credit card deal, but all require a credit card and will enroll you in a subscription service that you must remember to cancel in order to avoid monthly charges.
There is no minimum credit score needed to apply for most loans or credit cards. However, you are less likely to qualify for a loan or credit card and less likely to receive favorable rates when your credit score is low. If you are trying to qualify for a conventional loan or credit card with a low credit score, you may wish to wait until your credit improves, so you can ensure you get the best rates possible.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a consumer is entitled to a free credit report (but not a free credit score) within 60 days of any adverse action (e.g., being denied credit, or receiving substandard credit terms from a lender) taken as a result of their credit score. Under the Wall Street reform bill passed on July 22, 2010, a consumer is entitled to receive a free credit score if they are denied a loan or insurance due to their credit score.
A credit score is a number that rates your credit risk at one point in time. It can help creditors determine whether to give you credit, decide the terms you are offered, or the rate you will pay for the loan. Having a high score can benefit you in many ways, including making it easier for you to obtain a loan, rent an apartment, and lower your insurance rate.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) made it possible for you to get a free credit report. Through FACTA you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—each year. You should take advantage of this ability by ordering your credit report and using it to monitor your credit history.
Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law — annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. 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. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.