Remember Your Free Credit Report

By federal law, you can request a free credit report once per year from each of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. It’s recommended to mark your calendar three times a year (once every 4 months) to re-order each one. (For example, March = Experian; July = Equifax; and November = TransUnion.) Below you will find instructions for ordering your report from Experian (courtesy of Ken Weingarten, CFP®).

Even if you don’t plan on applying for credit anytime soon, or ever again, checking your credit report is a good way to protect yourself against identity theft. (Ironically, the risk of identity theft increased with the Equifax breach in 2017). If you find any errors, contact the agency immediately. Make sure that all accounts reported are actually yours, and that ones you have closed or paid off are reported as such.

Getting the report may or may not give you your actual credit score. Your score is derived from a complex mix of variables (too complicated for a blog post) that have to do with how you use credit. It’s good to know and track your score over time, but essential to monitor your entire report for fraud.

Note: advertisements you see on TV, or that pop up in your email, are for an unnecessary service (for most people). The link below is where the truly free credit reports can be obtained. Here are the steps:

1. Go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com
2. Select your state and click “request report”
3. Fill in your personal information, security characters, and click “continue”
4. Select Experian and click “next”
5. Click “next” again
6. Enter last four digits of your social security number and click “submit”
7. Choose extras if you want (not recommended); click “annual credit report” at the bottom in gray.
8. Check “I have read and agree to Experian’s Terms & Conditions, etc” if you accept them, click “Submit”
9. Answer the “identity verification” questions and click continue.
10. Click “print report” in upper right section of page.

If you come across any errors, contact Experian at 866-397-3742.

If you are married, make sure your spouse obtains his/her report, too.

If you do not anticipate needing new credit, the best way to protect yourself is to implement a security “freeze” with all three agencies.  Doing so prevents any new credit from being opened in your name without contacting you first to “unfreeze” your accounts. TransUnion and Experian charge $10 for a freeze. Equifax has waived freeze fees through June 30, 2018.

Finding how to set a freeze on all three sites is not easy – they would rather sell you ongoing credit “monitoring” than a one-time freeze; so you may have to use the search function and type in “freeze my credit.”

For more helpful tips on credit agencies, credit scores, and managing your credit, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s helpful page at: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/credit-reports-and-scores/​ 

Also, here’s another good resource to maintain your credit rating: https://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/good-credit/#credit-score-coronavirus

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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