If you've ever applied for a credit card or received a bank loan, you have a credit report, and a credit score. Lenders, landlords and credit card companies use these reports and your credit score to determine if you can be trusted with their money. The downside: Some analysts estimate that 50 percent of the reports on file with the three major credit bureaus have incorrect information. A new law requires the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to each provide one free credit report per year to anyone who asks, either in writing or online. (Note: Getting your Vantage Score, a.k.a. your credit score, which lenders also use, costs a little extra. It ranges from 350 to 900 and is based on about 30 factors.) You can apply for your free annual credit report online, phone 877-322-8228, or print out and mail this form. If you apply online, you will have to answer a few personal questions to prove your identity, so it's good to have your financial records handy. Before you request your report, read this excellent article that describes common myths about credit reports. If you need more than one report per year, and you don't qualify for a free report, you can view your report online for less than $10, or free if you try a credit monitoring service. These services check your reports regularly for suspicious activity that might indicate someone has stolen your identity. However, there also is a method available to prevent anyone from opening credit accounts in your name. It is called a "security freeze," and most states have laws that allow people who haven't been a victim of identity theft to add one to their accounts for $5 to $10. If a security freeze is in place, you won't need a credit monitoring service. Consumer Reports has compiled a list of states that offers security-freeze protection and how to get it done.
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