Chapter 3

Here's How To Get Your Free Credit Report (Step-By-Step)

Written by Cheri Read

If you're looking to get a free copy of your credit report, you're going to have to register an account and provide some personal information to one or two websites, but it's a fairly straightforward process that we'll walk you through.

We recommend two different services to get a free copy of your credit report:

  • 1
    AnnualCreditReport.com. You can get one copy of your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion pear year. It's not the most user-friendly website but it's legitimate. 
  • 2
    Credit Karma. A website that's a pleasure to use, but you can't access your Experian report here. 

This post will focus mostly on how to use AnnualCreditReport.com, but we'll also touch on using Credit Karma a bit too.

To get your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, it's pretty simple:

  • 1
    Provide some personal information to AnnualCreditReport.com
  • 2
    Decide if you want reports from all three credit bureaus, or just one or two
  • 3
    Confirm some more personal information with the credit bureau

Getting a hold of your credit report is an essential step in your quest to repairing your credit.

Let's get started, shall we?

How to get your free credit report with AnnualCreditReport.com 

Did you know you have the legal right to get a free copy of your credit reports from each of the three big credit bureaus, once per year?

This is thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003, which was implemented in part to help you stay informed of what lenders see, and also prevent credit fraud and identity theft by allowing you to see lines of credit you may not have opened.

The best way to get your free credit report is by using the website AnnualCreditReport.com. Let's walk through it together step-by-step.

Step 1: Fill in your personal information

AnnualCreditReport.com needs to verify your identity before handing over your credit reports, so your first step is to go to this registration page and fill in your personal information, which looks like this:

annualcreditreport

Step 2: Decide if you want all your credit reports now, or just one or two

AnnualCreditReport gives you the option to select your free credit report from any of the credit bureaus, or all of them.

annual credit report

Remember: you get one free copy from each of TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian per year. But you don't have to pull all three at the same time.

You could spread them throughout the year, which is what Scott Henderson does. 

"I set a reminder to check my credit report on January 1st with TransUnion, May 1st with Equifax, and September 1st with Experian," Scott told us.

So what should you do: pull them all at once, or spread them out?

Our advice: if you're about to make a big purchase, such as a car or a house, you should pull all three reports at once—this is because you'll want to make sure all three are accurate before you get quoted on a loan or interest rate.

If you don't have a big purchase coming up, it's probably a good idea to spread them out—this gives you the opportunity to keep an eye out on your reports consistently throughout the year.

So, make your decision and hit the "Next" button.

Step 3: Confirm your personal information with the credit bureau

On the next page, you're going to have to confirm some more personal information with whichever credit bureau you selected first.

Here, Mike is being asked to confirm his information with TransUnion.

Step 4: View and save your credit report!

On the next page is where you get free access to your credit report! Woo-hoo! 

Important note: Be sure to save your report as a PDF so you can review it for later, and have it for the rest of the year. If you close out of this page without saving your report, you might not be able to get it back.

In the image below, you'll see where you have the option to "Save as PDF":

transunion credit report

We recommend saving it somewhere like Google Drive or Dropbox or somewhere else secured in the cloud. This way, you'll always have access to it when you need it.

Wasn't that easy?

Step 5: Move on to the next credit report

If you decided to get a free report from two or three of the credit bureaus, you can click the red button shown below to move on to getting your next report:

free credit report
free credit report

In the example above, Mike had already pulled his report from TransUnion, and now he has to go through a similar process to get his Equifax and Experian reports, namely confirm some more personal information.

After that, he has a free credit report from all three bureaus! 

How many free credit reports do you get each year?

FACTA guarantees your right to one free credit report from each of Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, per year.

But here are a few scenarios where you're entitled to receive one additional report:

  • If you're unemployed, but plan to apply for jobs over the next 60 days
  • If you're receiving welfare
  • If you suspect you're the victim of credit fraud
  • If you've been denied credit or given risk-based loan terms

Let's talk about that last one a little more.

When you've been denied credit, the lender is required to send you a letter stating what factors were used in their decision, and will also contain the contact information for the credit bureau they used to get your data. You can then call them to get a free report mailed to you.

Getting your free credit reports with Credit Karma

So while AnnualCreditReport.com is definitely the best way to get your credit reports for free, we did want to mention Credit Karma because they offer a couple of neat bells and whistles on top of just giving you the reports, such as being able to check your reports at anytime, not just once per year.

One thing to keep in mind, though: Credit Karma will give you free reports from TransUnion and Equifax, but not Experian. 

Signing up with Credit Karma

To sign up with Credit Karma, go to this link and create your free account. 

credit karma

After filling out some personal information and confirming your identity—remember, these websites want to make certain you are who you say you are before handing out sensitive information—you're presented with your dashboard.

Credit Karma dashboard

Here's a look at Mike's dashboard, which shows his VantageScore (basically a competitor to the FICO score) from both TransUnion and Equifax:

credit karma dashboard

When you click on your TransUnion score, it takes you to a new page which shows a four-month snapshot of your VantageScore. It also allows you to toggle between your TransUnion and Equifax reports, and gives you the option to click into your actual credit report. 

credit karma dashboard

Accessing your credit report

When you click on the "Credit Report" link, you are shown your free credit report!

You can also print your report as a PDF here, which we recommend doing.

And that's all there is to it! 

You now know how to get free copies of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion with AnnualCreditReport.com.

You also know how to get your Equifax and TransUnion reports for free with Credit Karma, where you can check your reports at anytime, not just once per year. 

What's next?

Now that you have your free credit reports in hand, it's time to move on to the next step: how to actually go through and read your credit report so you know what to look for.