Free Credit Reports Extended Until April 2022—Here’s How To Get Yours
When the pandemic began, the three major credit bureaus allowed Americans to access their credit reports for free once weekly through April 20, 2021, instead of the once-yearly access normally required by federal law.
Today, those credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—have announced an extension of that access through April 20, 2022.
The bureaus’ joint hub for free credit reports, AnnualCreditReport.com, typically allows consumers to access one free credit report from each bureau each year. Extending the weekly allowance by a year gives consumers more time to keep an extra close eye on their credit history during a time when they may be struggling to pay their bills and when scammers are targeting everything from stimulus checks to unemployment benefits.
“For consumers, ensuring that one’s credit remains in good standing during this challenging time goes beyond paying mortgages, auto loans, credit card bills and other financial obligations each month,” said Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, in the bureaus’ press release. “Consumers should have the tools they need to be knowledgeable about their financial information.”
Why You Should Check Your Credit Report Regularly
Your credit report shows any credit cards or loans you have open (like car, student or personal loans) as well as the balance on those accounts. Whether you have a lot of debt or no debt at all, it’s important to keep tabs on this report because you need to prove good credit health if you want to access new credit—like to buy a new car, buy a home, or go to college—down the road.
Creditors report your payment status and balance to credit bureaus monthly, but there’s no set schedule for when this has to happen during a given month. More frequent access to credit reports can be especially helpful for consumers participating in temporary forbearance programs offered by creditors during the pandemic by allowing them to keep almost-real-time tabs on whether debt is being reported properly.
The CARES Act required many creditors to report accounts in temporary forbearance as current instead of past due, including federally backed mortgages and federal student loans. This important difference can help preserve credit scores as much as possible during the pandemic.
“During a time of widespread economic crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, increased accessibility to credit report information helps those who are struggling the most,” says Bruce McClary, senior vice president of communications at the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “As special arrangements are made to help people keep accounts on track, they can monitor how those accommodations are reported.”
Checking your credit report often helps you to identify potential fraud quickly. Fraudsters have made quick work taking advantage of people during the pandemic: Identity theft reports made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) more than doubled between 2019 and 2020, with credit card fraud, government documents or benefits fraud, and loan/lease fraud the most prevalent types of identity theft.
How to Access Your Free Credit Reports
To access your free credit reports, visit AnnualCreditReport.com. You’ll need to answer some questions to prove your identity in order to see your reports. If you have difficulty accessing your report online, you can also request it by phone or postal mail. You can choose to access your report for any of the three credit bureaus or all three at once.
These reports don’t show a credit score but instead provide a thorough history of your financial activities, including payments history and balances for credit cards, mortgages, and car, personal, or student loans.
When you access your report, make sure all the information is correct. If you’ve paid at least the minimum on time each month, your accounts should be listed as being in good standing. If you have past-due payments or an account in collections, this will also be noted on your report.
If you see an error on your report, don’t wait to dispute it with the credit bureau. Start the process as soon as you can to verify the accounts in question. The FTC has a guide and sample letters for doing this. You’ll also need to contact the creditor in question to correct your account status.
If you suspect you’re a victim of fraud or identity theft after reviewing your reports, report it at identitytheft.gov.
Remember: Each credit bureau may have different information about your financial history, so be sure to check each of them for accuracy.