This article is by GRS staff writer Adam Baker.

The statistics on credit reports errors are staggering. A 2004 U.S. PIRG survey showed that 79% of credit reports contained either serious errors or other mistakes of some kind. 79%? Seriously? How can that be?

I guess it doesn’t help that as of 2006, 27% of adults had never checked their report for errors. Not once. Ever.

Getting your hands on a free copy of your credit report and checking it for errors is one of the easiest ways to help your financial health. Correcting even a small mistake can make a huge difference to your score. A higher score means lower interest rates, insurance quotes, and can even help you land some types of jobs. And it’s never been easier to get a copy of your free credit report.

AnnualCreditReport.com is a government-approved site that enables most people to gain access to their reports within minutes. Under law, you have the right to obtain a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once every twelve months. Courtney and I stagger our requests so that we are able to access a different bureau every four months.

Warning: There are many scam sites that try to rip-off AnnualCreditReport.com. Stay away from the cheesy commercials and catchy jingles. AnnualCreditReport.com is safe, approved, and regulated.

I don’t think people realize just how simple it can be to check your report! Below, I’ve taken step-by-step screen shots of each leg of the process:

First, simply visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com

ACRHome

On the homepage, all you need to do is select your state from the dropdown list and press the red “Request Report” button.

acrinfo
  • Next, enter the required information (marked with a red *).
  • I recommend checking the box (I’ve highlighted with the red arrow) to hide your social security number should you print out the report.
  • Enter in the security code and select “Continue”.

acrselect

  • On this page you can select the bureau (or bureaus) you’d like to get your credit report from.
  • You can view all at once, but you’ll have to wait another full 12 months before re-visiting the same bureau. (In other words, if you pull all three at the same time, you can’t check any of them for free for an entire year.)
  • Courtney and I stagger our request and only pull one every four months.
  • Click “Next”.

acrconfirm

  • This screen is just a confirmation that you’ll be visiting the specific site of the bureau you selected.
  • Click “Next”.

experianconfirm

  • You are now asked to verify your identity on the specific site of the bureau.
  • This is Experian, although TransUnion and Equifax have similar confirmation screens.
  • Enter your information and press the red “SUBMIT”.

experianstep1

  • Experian would now like to make a quick buck.
  • Avoid the upsell, and click “Annual Credit Report” highlighted below.

experianstep2

  • Next is the Order Summary screen.
  • Verify the amount is $0.00 (Free).
  • Check the Terms & Conditions box. (If your name is J.D., you’ll want to read the whole damn thing before checking the box.)
  • Click the red “SUBMIT” button.

experianstep3

  • Lastly, you have one more confirmation screen before gaining access to the report.
  • Experian asks you four security questions regarding information on the file.
  • Answer the questions (some may very well be “NONE OF THE ABOVE”).
  • Click the red “CONTINUE” button.

experiansummary

  • Now you have access to your credit report!
  • Look over the Summary, Negative Items, Accounts in Good Standing, Requests, Personal Information, and Personal Statement tabs at the top.
  • Notice the “print your report” link I’ve highlighted in case you want to retain a copy.
  • As always, avoid the upsells to keep your access free!

experiannegative

Here is a real-life example of what identity theft looks like! There’s one negative item listed as “charged off”, but that was a fraudulent account. This is now the third time it’s appeared on Courtney’s report after being removed. Negative items feature a “Dispute this item” button that walks you through the dispute process.

experianhistory

This is an example of the “Requests for your credit history” tab. You can see there are two primary categories: one for “Requests viewed by others” (hard pulls) and one for “Requests viewed only by you” (soft pulls). In this example, a third party would not see any recent requests for use of credit, since there are none listed for that category.

experianfail

Note: If you’ve already accessed your account in the last 12 months, you will be shown this screen when trying to log-in. (Of course, they are more than willing to sell you a report if you have a credit card!)

Note: Courtney and I have placed a security freeze on our credit reports since paying off our last credit card. Even with a credit report freeze, you can still obtain your free copy through AnnualCreditReport.com.

In the rare case you are denied access…
If for one reason or another you are unable to obtain online access, you still have options for getting your free reports. You can:

  • Call 1-877-322-8228 to obtain a copy by phone; or
  • Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

So what are you waiting for? If you’ve put this off in the past, schedule a time to get your free copy and review it for errors! Your credit score and your wallet will thank you.

Special thanks to Andrew Norcross for his technical help in enabling me access to take these screenshots from New Zealand!