If you’re considering taking out a loan, you’ve probably started to wonder about your credit score and what it will take for a lender to consider you a creditworthy candidate.
This process begins with knowing where you stand with your debts and how these debts affect your chances of receiving a loan. Even if you’re not considering a loan, staying up to date with this information could potentially help you budget and organize your finances.
Attaining a copy of your credit report will help to give you all this information and more. But where do you get this report? What documents do you need to get it? How long will it take to receive it? What information does it contain? How often can you get it?
Let’s start at the beginning: What is a credit report?
What is a Credit Report?
Simply put, a credit report is a document that provides you with information on your finances, including your income, mortgage or rent, credit cards, and many other expenses. It contains your entire financial history, from the bills you’ve paid to loans you’ve repaid. You can also see how much debt you have, your credit card limits, how long you’ve had a certain credit account, and so on.
Your credit report not only shows you important insight into your finances, but it also makes it possible for lenders to check whether you’re eligible for a loan and financially capable of repaying your debt. The information in your credit report is extremely valuable to lenders when they’re deciding whether to approve your loan application.
What Do I Need if I Want to Get a Free Credit Report?
Although some documents require you to submit a lot of paperwork to access, receiving a copy of your credit report is much less complicated. In fact, you probably already have everything you need to get yours.
There are three major bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) that can provide you with a copy of this document in the US. To get your credit report, you only need to send them your:
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number
- Your previous address if you’ve been at your current address for fewer than two years.
When you’re submitting your request online or over the phone, note that you may be asked to provide some other financial information to confirm your identity. It’s typically something like your monthly mortgage or credit card limit.
It’s also helpful to know that you’re the only person who can access your full credit report. Your employer, for example, can only receive it if you’ve given them your written consent. Your landlord may have access to some public information, but they can’t get a deeper insight into your credit report.
How Do I Obtain a Copy of the Report?
Obtaining a copy of your credit report is a simple process that you can do three different ways by either visiting a central website, calling a phone number, or sending a request through the mail. You can submit a request to all three bureaus for free once every year. You can order from them all at once or at different times. There’s also no need to call any of the bureaus since their reports are all provided through the central service.
To order your credit report via the central website, visit annuacreditreport.com.
To do it over the phone, dial 1-877-322-8228. Calling this number is free of charge.
If you want to mail in a request for a report, you can download a form from the website and send it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
If you do want to submit a request for a report, make sure you only do it through the methods mentioned above. Many fake websites state they can provide you with a free credit report, but they’re likely scams. Avoid any websites that ask you to give your credit card number or sign up for a free trial.
Can I Receive a Free Report More Than Once a Year?
It’s possible to receive a free credit report sooner than in 12 months in several cases. You have the right to a free report if:
- You’re currently unemployed and want to start looking for a job within the next two months.
- If you’ve applied for credit and been rejected, you can request a new report within 60 days.
- You are on welfare assistance.
- You’ve found an error in your previous report.
- You’ve been a victim of identity theft.
You’re allowed one free credit report per year, but certain US states will grant you another without having to pay. Beyond that, if you need one, you can pay between $5 and $12.
What Do I Need This Report For?
It can be helpful to review your credit report before going to a bank or talking to a lender about a loan. It’s not uncommon for there to be errors in your report that will potentially affect your credit score and trustworthiness. These errors can also affect your lender’s decision whether to approve your loan application. If you’re simply interested in tracking your credit score because you’ve been trying to improve it, consider checking to see if the personal finance website that you use provides this service.
How Long Do I Have to Wait for the Report?
Depending on how you submit your request, the waiting time can vary from a few minutes to 15 days.
The fastest way to access your credit report is to submit the request through the website. If you do it over the phone, your report will be sent to you within 15 days, and if you send it through the mail, you’ll get it roughly 15 days after each bureau receives the request.
What Does the Report Look Like?
Each credit report has five different sections. The first part contains your personal information, such as your name, current address, previous address, date of birth, etc., but not your monthly or annual income.
The second part shows your credit history, and it contains the data about all the accounts you’ve ever had, your current and highest balance, etc. Don’t forget that your credit report isn’t only about credit cards and loans; if you have any utility company debts, these will also show, as well as any late payments you’ve made. However, these late payments will disappear from your credit report after six years.
Any bankruptcies, tax liens, or other legal matters will appear in the third section of your credit report. If you’ve taken out a joint loan with your spouse, for example, their name will also show on your report.
New loan or credit card applications submitted within the last 24 months, called hard inquiries, are listed in the fourth section of the report. You’ll also find their expiration dates there.
Soft inquiries, which don’t affect your credit score, are listed in the fifth section; these refer to third-party requests to see your credit report. They may have come from an employer, as mentioned before, or from a lender or an insurance company.
Does Getting a Credit Report Affect My Credit Score?
If you’ve decided to submit a request to see your credit report, you might be wondering whether it will affect your credit score. And if so, to what extent?
Receiving your credit report and checking your score and other information won’t negatively affect your credit score. However, as mentioned in the previous section, there are soft and hard inquiries.
Asking for your own credit report is an example of a soft inquiry. Another example is when a company reviews your lending account. This type of inquiry does appear on your credit report for up to two years, but it doesn’t affect your credit score.
Hard inquiries can affect your credit score. However, for large purchases, such as for a house or mortgage, you can feel comfortable looking around for the best offer since, typically, all loan requests you make between 14 and 45 days are all counted as one single hard inquiry.
The Importance of a Credit Report
As you can probably tell, your credit report can be an important tool. Lenders and many other institutions or individuals will typically check your credit report to see whether you’re a trustworthy candidate for buying a home, renting an apartment, buying a car, getting the job you’ve applied for, etc.
It’s not always easy to keep track of everything that’s contained within your credit report, and checking it once in a while can help you maintain healthy financial habits, or spot any errors that have occurred. You can receive a copy of your credit report in a few easy steps, and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes.