Most adults are aware of the importance of having a good credit score, but often fail to check to make sure their score is accurate. It’s understandable. We’re all busy working, raising families, and living our lives.
A good credit score is one of those things that’s easy to take for granted until something goes wrong. The problem is, once it goes wrong, it can be challenging to fix.
Credit reports are used to evaluate virtually every financial decision. They contain detailed information about where you live, your employment, and your financial health and history.
Credit agencies sell the information contained in the report to companies who then use it to evaluate creditworthiness. From home and auto loans to employment opportunities and credit card applications, credit reports can either make life easier or infinitely more difficult.
Reasons to Check Your Credit Report
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) entitles every individual access to one free copy of their credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every 12 months.
Experts strongly recommend requesting this free report. Here are some reasons why:
Accuracy: People make mistakes, and things get reported inaccurately sometimes, causing your credit score to go down. It can take weeks to correct an error once found, increasing the potential for delaying important financial transactions or being blindsided by a credit rejection.
Awareness: It’s best to know what the credit agencies know. It can take time (sometimes years) to increase your credit score, and the sooner you identify what’s dragging your score down, the better. Knowing your score is especially critical if you plan on making any large purchases like a house or a car.
Fraud: Many financial transactions are completed online now, and the potential for identity theft or fraud is high. The sooner fraud is identified, the easier it is to repair the damage. An annual free credit report will help you recognize accounts you didn’t authorize, inquiries on your credit that you didn’t initiate, and addresses or names that aren’t yours.
How to Check Your Credit Report
You are entitled by law to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax).
Since this law passed, a plethora of websites claiming to provide a free report has appeared. Some are completely legitimate but try to sell you other services, and some are outright scams. Be careful, do some research, and read the fine print carefully.
Here are the five best legitimate web sites to order your report:
1. Annual Credit Report
This site is the official web site developed and maintained via a collaboration of the three reporting agencies.
AnnualCreditReport.com allows users a centralized place to request a report from one agency at a time or from all three agencies at once.
Some experts recommend staggering requests from each of the agencies throughout the year for the most effective monitoring.
This site provides only the free report, with no ongoing credit monitoring or credit score.
2. Credit Karma
Credit Karma is another legitimate source for a free credit report. You’re required to sign up for a membership but don’t need to enter a credit card number, ensuring that you will not pay for services you did not request or failed to cancel.
CreditKarma.com will give you free credit scores and reports combined with ongoing credit monitoring from TransUnion. Credit Karma also provides its members with free state and federal tax preparation.
3. Credit Sesame
Credit Sesame is similar to Credit Karma, requiring a membership but no credit card to join. They are slightly more aggressive in pushing products rather than advice but give users the added feature of identity theft monitoring.
CreditSesame.com even provides $50,000 in free identity theft insurance for members and will assist in identity restoration. Credit Sesame partners with TransUnion and does not provide reports for all three credit agencies.
Bankrate acquired Quizzle and brought its credit services under the Bankrate umbrella of products, although many still recognize the Quizzle name.
Bankrate.com partners with Equifax for its reports, but provides similar credit reporting services for site members without requiring a credit card.
It also has a robust home loan recommendation section that analyzes your financial health to determine if you’re ready to buy a home and offers help to make sure your credit is in the best shape possible to apply for a mortgage.
WalletHub is the only free site that provides daily updates to your credit information. If you’re concerned that someone has gained unauthorized access to your accounts, or are actively trying to improve your credit quickly, this may be the best site to join.
WalletHub.com doesn’t require a credit card for membership and your credit will not be affected by the frequent checks. Like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, WalletHub uses TransUnion data.
Turn to Credit Monitoring Experts
In addition to these five popular ways to get a free credit report, there are highly-rated credit monitoring and identity theft services that cost money but will allow users to try their services free for a limited time.
If you aren’t interested in paying for ongoing service and don’t mind doing all the legwork on your own, consider joining one of the free services like Credit Karma or Bankrate to get access to data from both TransUnion and Equifax.