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May 02, 2009

Truly Free Credit Report

You've seen the ads for "free" credit reports, even set to funky little songs like "free credit report dot coooooom". But most, if not all, of the so called "free" credit reports you see on tv or online are not really free. They make you sign up for some service to be able to get your "free" credit report.

The only truly free credit reports are the ones you can get through, which is the website mandated by Congress when the FCRA was last amended. You can get one credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) per year (for a total of three). You can get them at the same time or spread them out, whatever you prefer. Your credit score does not come with the free credit reports, but you can add your score for a small fee (like $5).

You can get your free credit reports three different ways. One is by visiting, which then redirects you to the websites for whichever credit report(s) you want to obtain. Each bureau's website will make you jump through a few hoops to verify that you are you. Most of the time this is easy, like picking the amount of your car payment or the name of your mortgage company from a multiple choice list. This can get tricky if you are a victim of identity theft and the credit bureau asks you about an account that was opened fraudulent and, as a result, you have no or little knowledge about. The other pitfall is that the credit bureau's website might require you to agree to arbitration to get your credit report. This REALLY irks me since that means you are required to give up your right to a jury trial (and maybe other rights) in exchange for something that you are already entitled to (i.e. your Congressionally mandated free credit report).

The best way around the potential arbitration and verification issues is to request your free credit report(s) via regular mail. This takes a little longer, but just a few days. You must use the correct form, which can be found at, but it does not contain any arbitration clauses to worry about. This is how I request my credit reports once a year.

The last way to get your free credit report is by calling. I have never tried this option so I can not comment on any pitfalls that might be associated with calling. The number is 1-877-322-8228 and allegedly includes some type of verification process.

Of course, you can always request your credit reports directly from the credit bureaus even if you have already gotten your free credit report. But that requires you to pay a fee to obtain the credit report unless you have been denied credit based on that credit bureau's credit report regarding you within 60 days, or you are disputing an error (the credit bureau is supposed to send a free updated credit report after its "investigation" of your dispute) or if you indicated that you believe there are errors on your credit report as a result of fraud.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

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