Every United States citizen and legal resident is entitled to a yearly copy of their credit report and score, as mandated by the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The goal of this act is to keep citizens informed so as to avoid identity theft and fraud, and to make them aware of personal decisions or debts that could affect their purchasing power. This credit report is available at the official Annual Credit Report website.
Keeping track of a credit report is an important tool in stopping identity theft, or false claims, and maintaining control of personal finances. Sometimes those seeking credit for large purchases find themselves rejected when they believed their credit was clean, only to discover that an unknown account is delinquent. Sometimes these accounts are opened by someone else by illegal means, while other times they are valid accounts that the individual lost track of through moving, or other means.
The Annual Credit Report website is the quickest and easiest way to obtain a copy of a credit report and score. This website provides reports from the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax®, TransUnion® and Experian®. Users sign into the website and can instantly receive a digital copy of it to view. It is also possible to obtain a credit report and score directly from the three reporting agencies, but when contacting them outside of the Annual Credit Report website, they will usually charge a fee for this service.
In order to obtain the free credit report and score, users must be prepared to give their name, address, Social Security number, date of birth and any previous addresses. An extra security question asks for an answer only the user would know, such as the monthly payment for, or balance of, an account. For those who do not have Internet access, the annual credit report and score can be obtained by calling the Annual Credit Report hot line at 877-322-8228. The same questions will be asked as in the online form. This report is not instant, however, but rather will be received by mail in about 15 days.
Other websites that offer a free credit report and score have conditions attached to them. Some require users to apply for credit cards to get the report, while other require subscription to a monitoring service. It is important to read the fine print on any online form since applying for credit can lower a score. Many users are disappointed to discover that their "free credit report" is followed by a price tag for services they don't require or desire. It is safer to only trust the Annual Credit Report website.