Free Credit Report: What Is It and Should You Get One?

Free Credit Report: What Is It and Should You Get One? article image.

Through April 20, 2022, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax will offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com to help you protect your financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19.

Your credit report contains information that helps creditors decide whether to lend you money, and provides the basis for your credit scores. Getting your free credit report and reviewing it can give you insight into what others see when they check your credit. Lenders, landlords, employers, utilities and insurance companies may analyze information from your credit report when you submit an application or are a current customer.

What Does a Free Credit Report Tell You?

Your credit reports can contain a wealth of information about your personal and financial history.

The formatting of the report you receive may vary depending on who compiles the data and sends you the report. But free and paid copies should have the same information.

Credit reports are generally broken into several sections:

  • Personal information: This could include your name, any previous names used or name variations, address, previous addresses and date of birth. It may also include places you've worked and phone numbers you've used. To help protect your identity, Experian doesn't list the Social Security number (SSN) you used to request a copy of your credit report. But we will show other SSNs that have been reported to us by your lenders, which may be the result of typographical error. Personal information that you do not recognize can sometimes be an indicator of fraud.
  • Credit accounts: Also called tradelines, these accounts can include credit cards, loans and lines of credit. Each account will have relevant information associated with it, such as the creditor's name, date the account was opened, the original loan amount or credit limit, payment and balance history, and current payment status. Your closed accounts may be listed separately.
  • Collection accounts: These are unpaid accounts that have either been sent or sold to collections.
  • Public records: The only public record that will appear on your credit report is a bankruptcy filing.
  • Hard inquiries: When a creditor checks your credit report for lending purposes or as the result of a request for certain services, a hard inquiry will appear on your report. A hard inquiry can stay on your credit report for up to two years and may have a slight, negative impact on your credit scores for a few months.
  • Soft inquiries: These are often the result of preapproved offers of credit or an account review, which is when a company you already do business with does a periodic review of your credit history. They may also appear as a record of activity when you check your own credit report. Other reasons include making a prescreened credit offer, for employment purposes and for insurance purposes. Soft inquiries won't impact your credit scores.

Each of the three major consumer credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—could have different information about you, which could result in differences in your credit reports from each bureau and any credit scores derived from those reports. For example, if a lender only sends your loan information to Experian, it won't also appear in your Equifax or TransUnion reports.

Why Is a Credit Report Important?

Your credit history can play a big role in your overall financial health. Credit reports, and sometimes the credit scores that are calculated using the information in your credit reports, may be used by various people and organizations:

  • Lenders will often request a credit report and a score based on the report when evaluating a new loan application. They may use the information to determine your eligibility and the interest rates and terms they may offer.
  • An employer or landlord may review your credit report—although employers receive a modified version of the report and they never get a credit score.
  • In many states, insurance companies may consider credit-based insurance scores when determining your premiums.
  • Utilities and telecom companies may review your credit before turning on services, offering you a payment plan or requesting a security deposit.

You can review your credit report to better understand what's affecting your credit scores. And, when you order a credit score, you will receive a list of the risk factors currently impacting that score, which can help you know what steps to take to improve your scores.

Checking your credit reports also allows you to look for unusual or incorrect information. For example, an account you didn't open or an address you've never seen before appearing on your credit report could be a sign of identity theft. You can place a fraud alert on your reports to notify lenders that you may be a victim or freeze your credit report with each credit bureau to limit others' access to your reports. Experian's CreditLock feature offers a similar level of protection, but you can lock and unlock your Experian report in real time.

If you spot information on your report you believe to be inaccurate, you can contact the creditor to ask them to correct or update the information. You can also initiate a dispute with the credit bureau on whose report the information appears. For example, you can use Experian's online Dispute Center if you notice something on your Experian credit report. Doing this before applying for a large loan, such as an auto loan or mortgage, can be especially important because you'll want your reports to reflect the most current and complete credit information before a lender pulls your report. But making a regular habit of checking your credit is also a good practice. Find out more about what's in your credit report to get a better understanding of how it can affect your credit score.

Is Getting a Free Credit Report Safe?

Getting a free credit report can be a simple and safe process. In fact, there are many situations when the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to obtain a free copy of your report, including when:

  • A creditor declines your application due, in part, to the information in your credit report.
  • You're unemployed and looking for work.
  • You're receiving public assistance.
  • You believe you're a victim of fraud.

Organizations or programs that require you to pay for your credit report aren't necessarily unsafe. But some may only offer free trials, or they could be charging you for something you could get for free. Just be sure you're aware of any charges you may incur.

As always, be on the lookout for scams and research a company before sharing personal or payment information.

Does Getting a Free Credit Report Affect Your Credit Score?

Getting a free credit report won't affect your credit scores. A record that you checked your credit report could be added to the report as a soft inquiry. But soft inquiries don't impact credit scores at all.

While credit scores are based entirely on the information in one of your credit reports, they don't consider every piece of data in your report. For example, your personal information, such as names and addresses, don't impact your credit scores.

Instead, credit scoring models focus on your history with credit accounts, such as whether you've paid bills on time, what your current balances are (particularly in relation to your credit limits) and whether you have experience with different types of accounts.

Where Can I Check My Credit Report for Free?

You can usually request a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit bureaus every 12 months on AnnualCreditReport.com. However, in response to the pandemic, you're able to get a free copy from each bureau once per week on the site through April 20, 2022. A company that the three major credit bureaus sponsor maintains the site.

You also may be able to request a copy directly from the credit bureaus. For example, Experian gives you a free credit report and doesn't ask for your credit card info. Experian also offers free credit monitoring with daily alerts for significant changes, such as a new credit inquiry or account.

The purpose of this question submission tool is to provide general education on credit reporting. The Ask Experian team cannot respond to each question individually. However, if your question is of interest to a wide audience of consumers, the Experian team may include it in a future post and may also share responses in its social media outreach. If you have a question, others likely have the same question, too. By sharing your questions and our answers, we can help others as well.

Personal credit report disputes cannot be submitted through Ask Experian. To dispute information in your personal credit report, simply follow the instructions provided with it. Your personal credit report includes appropriate contact information including a website address, toll-free telephone number and mailing address.

To submit a dispute online visit Experian's Dispute Center. If you have a current copy of your personal credit report, simply enter the report number where indicated, and follow the instructions provided. If you do not have a current personal report, Experian will provide a free copy when you submit the information requested. Additionally, you may obtain a free copy of your report once a week through April 2022 at AnnualCreditReport.