Credit bureaus sell credit reports, but it’s not always easy to find them. TransUnion, for example, buries its $11.50 report purchase information on its website, beyond the more lucrative credit-monitoring pitches. Equifax and Experian make it easier to find out how to buy their stand-alone reports for $15.95 and $10, respectively.
But save your money. Under federal law, you’re entitled to one free credit report each year from each bureau. On top of that, residents of Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, and Puerto Rico are also entitled to a second free annual report from each bureau. Those federal and state laws also apply to your spouse and children ages 13 and up. The one place to order your free reports is at annualcreditreport.com.
You’re also entitled to a free credit report from each bureau after you file a 90-day fraud alert, which you should do every 90 days if you’ve been a victim of ID theft or have a good-faith suspicion that you’re about to become one. That’s because there can be a months-long lag between the loss of your personal data and fraud committed with that information. You’re considered a victim if you’ve ever had a credit card stolen, found unauthorized charges on your bank or credit-card statement or phone bill, received notification of a data-security breach involving your personal information from a company you do business with, or experienced other fraud involving your identity. Even if you’ve been lucky so far, it’s worth assuming that you’re about to become a victim for precautionary purposes, since one in 14 households was hit in 2010, mostly from credit-card fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.
You can also request a free report if you’ve been turned down for credit or received notice that you didn’t get the best interest rate or insurance premium because of your credit score. So there’s ample opportunity to obtain credit reports free at intervals throughout the year.