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A Credit Card Required for a Free Credit Report?

Copyright 2006 Richard Keir

Millions of Americans have sought and received a free credit report under the FACT Act amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

While there are a ton of online sites offering 'free' credit reports, there are really only three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian (which used to be TRW) and TransUnion.

If you go to one of their sites ( www.experian.com, www.equifax.com, www.transunion.com ). You'll quickly discover that the "free" report they offer directly requires you to sign up, using a credit card, for a monthly service.

These monthly services offer you thirty days free - but you absolutely must remember to cancel your membership before the 30 days end or you will be charged.

Each site also contains information about how to obtain an actual free report. This information, which is basically identical on all three sites, states the following: Under Federal law, you have the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. To request your free annual report under that law, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.

I thought that was very interesting and went to check out the process. Oddly enough when I went to that site, I got an error page and the following message:

"The page cannot be found

The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable."

This is not a default server/browser error page. The URL for it is: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/notfound.htm

I went and checked Google and their last saved copy of the 'real' page was from April 28, 2006. I was unable to find any indication of why the page has been removed, but at least at the moment you have no access to this page despite the fact that it is essentially mandated by Federal law.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer and it's not entirely clear to me exactly what agreements underlie the creation of this site, but the Federal Trade Commission pages link to this site. Somebody created that notfound.htm and it seems to me they really should have provided an explanation of why our access to the real free online credit reports is being denied - even if it is just temporary.

The following information is part of what was on that site according to the copy stored on Google from 04/28/2006:

You may request your free credit report online, by phone or through the mail. Free credit reports requested online are viewable immediately upon authentication of identity. Free credit reports requested by phone or mail will be processed within 15 days of receiving your request.

This central site allows you to request a free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

AnnualCreditReport.com is the official site to help consumers to obtain their free credit report."

Now that would all be very nice - if it were accessible. Hopefully it will have become accessible again by the time you are reading this.

If not, here is the information from the FTC on how to get your free credit report:

"You can order your free annual credit report online at annualcreditreport.com, by calling 1-877-322-8228, or by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. When you order, you need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. To verify your identity, you may need to provide some information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment."

While supposedly you can request a free report on the companies websites, I failed to find a way to do that without signing up for their monthly service and then canceling before the free 30 days were over. You could try calling them, however, to request a free report:

Experian at 888-397-3742, Equifax at 1-800-685-1111 or TransUnion at 800-888-4213

Using annualcreditreport.com or mailing an Annual Credit Report Request Form to the Annual Credit Report Request Service, you can request reports from one or all three credit reporting companies. With any other 'free' option for accessing your credit reports, you need to sign up with all three companies or pay for an additional service that will provide all three reports.

Check this page at the FTC for more information and a link to a PDF copy of the annual request form which you can download, print and then mail.

If you're in a hurry and need your report fast, your best bet will be to go directly to one (or all) of the 3 sites above and go ahead and sign-up. You will need to give them a credit card and more personal information than you might like, but they no doubt have much more extensive information about you on file already. Going to any other site (than one of these three) means you will be sharing your information in places you really don't need to. You also potentially could end up on a fraudulent or imposter site.

When you go to a site use a valid link from the FTC or type the address in yourself. When you arrive, verify the address. Identity theft does happen so the extra effort involved in being sure about what you're doing is critically important.

If, for some reason, you need to track your credit reporting history closely, you could request your free reports individually, spreading your requests over the year. While the information may vary from one company to another, spreading out the requests does give you the ability to check more frequently without having to buy reports or maintain a membership at one or more of the credit reporting agencies.

An excellent beginning point is to read the full FTC publication "Your Access to Free Credit Reports".

So, no, you don't need a credit card to get your free credit report. However, as I write this, it's not possible to do it online without a credit card. The annualcreditreport.com website should eventually be up and operating again, sometime, so before you pay or use a credit card to get a free report, check that site and see if it's back in business. And while it's a little more time consuming and you'll need to wait to receive your reports, you can always use the mail or call (1-877-322-8228) to get your free reports from the Annual Credit Report Request Service.

Be smart, don't pay for something you don't need. If you signup for a 30 day free membership to get your free report, cancel it as soon as you have your report. These companies are required by law to provide a free annual credit report. But, on their own websites, they're smart enough to offer the free report as bait for a membership. This lets them squeeze some extra bucks out of a legal requirement when people forget to cancel within the 30 days limit. Plus they also offer a variety of other, more expensive, credit report plans that sound enticing but which very very few people really need.


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