Your Free Credit Report: 3 Times A Year

by Jon Dulin on September 18, 2013 · 10 comments

credit reportIdentity theft happens to people everyday. The process of getting one’s identity back can be long, tiresome, and costly. For me, it was nerve-racking. In my case, my debit card was compromised. To this day, I still don’t know how they got my debit card number, but they did.

I just remember logging into my bank online and noticing $300 was missing. A little research showed there were a few unauthorized withdrawals. The bank was very helpful – they gave me a new debit card and submitted a report to their fraud department. From there though, I had to wait for the outcome, which could take upwards of three months.

Credit versus Debit

If you are unaware, when your credit card gets compromised and you notify the credit card company, they place those charges on hold and you are not responsible for paying those charges until the outcome of the investigation. During this waiting period, those transactions don’t accrue interest either.

With a debit card, it’s a different story. The money is gone from your checking account and it doesn’t get refunded until the investigation is complete and only if the bank determines fraud occurred. In my situation, my $300 was gone. Three months later, the bank confirmed it was fraud and they credited me back the $300. While I am glad I received my money back, it was still tough getting through those three months with $300 less in my account.

Protecting Yourself With a Free Credit Report

An easy way to keep an eye on your credit is to review your credit report annually. Reviewing your report annually will allow you to notice:

  • Any unrecognized¬† or unauthorized mailing addresses
  • See new credit accounts that were opened
  • See who has looked at your credit report
  • Find any errors listed on the report
  • See any collections or bankruptcies on your report

As I hope many you are aware of, you can get your credit report for free, each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. All 3 bureaus РTransUnion, Experian, and Equifax -  take part in this service and the report is free once per year. But, with a little ingenuity you can get your free report 3 times per year.

When most go to AnnualCreditReport.com, they select to receive their credit reports from all three credit bureaus at once. However, you are not required to select all three at once. You can choose to receive one, two or all three at a time. To get you free report time times per year, simply select one bureau the first time, then come back in four months and select the next bureau the second time, and the last bureau in another four months. Here is an example broken down:

  • January – elect to receive TransUnion credit report
  • May – elect to receive Equifax credit report
  • September – elect to receive Experian credit report

Doing it this way allows you to check your report more than once per year. Understand that I feel that reviewing your credit report once per year is plenty. But after my debit card was compromised, I was worried that someone out there had my information and I elected to use this trick. Either way, all that matters is that you take advantage of your free report and look at yours every year. Doing so allows you catch errors and/or suspicious activity early on, which makes it 100 times easier to get resolved and limits the difficulty in repairing your credit.

Free Credit Score

Realize that you are only getting your credit report for free, not your credit score. For 99% of people getting your credit report for free is all you need. The only times you need to review your credit score is before you make a large purchase that you plan on taking a loan out on, such as a home or car. Reviewing your credit score allows you to know if you qualify for the best interest rates. There are some lenders out there that will claim you have a lower score than you actually do so they can charge you a higher interest rate. While this is more the exception than the rule, it still happens.

There are a few options for getting your credit score for free. Many of them unfortunately are frauds. I say this because they will give you your score for free (which is what they advertise) but they also enroll you in a credit monitoring service at the same time which charges you a monthly fee (which they don’t advertise). Recently the government cracked down on this and these companies now mention you will be charged for the credit monitoring. If you have to provide your credit card, you are getting charged at some point.

Truly Free Credit Score

What I use to get my free credit score and recommend is Credit Sesame. It’s a great site that allows you to review your credit score for free. They offer it for free because they offer sponsored loan offers. This doesn’t bother me though, as I just want to see my score.

The only caveat to Credit Sesame is that they use the Experian National Equivalency Score as your credit score while the three major credit bureaus use FICO Score for your credit score. While there are some differences between the two, your score will be similar. I’ve seen and heard of variances of up to 20 points. But you won’t get a credit score of 800 from Credit Sesame while your FICO Score is 700.

Final Thoughts

Using AnnualCreditReport to get your free credit report annually is a no-brainer. It is up to you if you would like to elect to receive it three times a year. If you want a truly free credit score, then Credit Sesame is definitely the way to go for that.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Joshua @ CNAFinance.com September 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

I love annualcreditreport.com! Great post!
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John S @ Frugal Rules September 18, 2013 at 9:43 am

Wow, sorry to hear about the $300, but glad you eventually got it back. That is an issue many overlook when they’re looking at credit vs. debit. We get our reports three times a year and why not – they’re free after all!
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Jon September 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

I’m just glad I caught it when I did. Otherwise, I might have been overdrafted and had no money along with fees and headaches.

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Grayson @ Debt Roundup September 18, 2013 at 11:52 am

Great post Jon. Many people have no idea that they can get their credit report from each agency once a year. That is like a hidden gem.
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Jon September 18, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Just doing my part to help everyone out!

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Romona @Monasez September 19, 2013 at 10:34 am

I use credit sesame to check my credit score but I check mines on a monthly basis.

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robert@moneyrebound September 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm

It is definitely a good idea to check your credit report on a regular basis. All sorts of weird stuff can end up on there is your aren’t careful

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Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life September 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Didn’t know about credit sesame, I’ll have to check it out. I got my FICO score doing a 7 day trial at one of those monthly subscription sites. But it was very clear I’d be charged if I maintained my account, so I called to cancel after the trial.

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Jon September 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Good to hear you knew about the charge after the free trial and canceled it in time. Many times they hide this fact and get to charge people.

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Betsy / CollegeMom September 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I monitor my credit throughout the year by spreading out my free credit reports. It’s a great free way to make sure nothing out of the ordinary is going on.
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