The three major U.S. credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — have extended their offer of free weekly credit reports to consumers by a year, until April 20, 2022. The reports, available on AnnualCreditReport.com, are being made available to all Americans to offer protection as many face financial hardship due to the coronavirus.
Before last year’s offer, you could get one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit bureau. Lenders and online credit education tools often provide free reports on demand as well.
What do you need to know about free weekly credit reports from the major bureaus, and what should you look for in your reports?
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Should You Check Your Credit Report During the COVID-19 Crisis?
“Checking your credit report weekly is an excellent way to stay on top of your credit during these uncertain times,” says Beverly Harzog, bestselling author, credit card expert and consumer finance analyst at U.S. News. “It’s a great opportunity to review your reports for errors or for signs of fraud.”
Check your financial accounts online each day, Harzog says, and use the free weekly credit reports if you’re worried about accurate reporting. Credit reports are records of your financial health and are the basis for credit scores.
Lenders and others review your credit report to determine your creditworthiness for a loan or an apartment or even whether you’re hired for a job.
The economic toll from the coronavirus pandemic means that many credit card bills and other debts are going unpaid. Lenders are allowing consumers to delay some payments without negative credit reporting, but consumers should verify that the accounts are noted as current on their credit reports.
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What Should You Do With Your Free Credit Reports?
You’ll want to review your free credit report for areas you can improve and for mistakes. Here’s what to check:
— Basic information, such as your name and address. An incorrect variation of your name or an address where you never lived could indicate fraud.
— Your accounts; an account that you don’t know about under your name is a red flag.
— The payment history on your accounts. Even though the three credit reporting agencies have said forbearance or deferred payment plans will not hurt credit reports, make sure they follow through.
If you find a mistake, contact the credit bureau that reported the information and the creditor for the account. You will have to contact each credit bureau separately to dispute information in your credit report.
“Make sure you monitor your credit score as well so you get a comprehensive view of your credit status,” Harzog says.
Remember , the credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com do not include credit scores, but you can get your FICO or VantageScore credit scores from a lender or online service.
Should You Check Your Credit Weekly?
You can check your credit every week, but do you really need to? It depends on your financial situation.
“Anyone going through a divorce or who has been a fraud victim needs to be extra-vigilant,” Harzog says. “If you’re unable to pay your bills and you have an accommodation in place, then check your reports weekly to make sure your account is still listed in good standing. Lenders could make mistakes.”
For everyone else, Harzog recommends checking your report at least monthly, as this is a great chance to do so at no cost.
“You can review it for errors and signs of fraud, which can bring down your score unnecessarily and prevent you from getting credit, in case you do need it,” she says.
How Can You Get Your Free Credit Reports?
You can go online, call or send a form in the mail to get your credit reports. Here’s how you can obtain a report, no matter which way your prefer.
Website: Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and enter the required personal information, including your Social Security number and birthdate. You can print copies right away.
Toll-free number: Call 877-322-8228 to have your reports mailed to you.
Mailing address: Download the annual credit report request form, fill it out and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
If you would like more COVID-19 credit resources, each credit bureau offers these online support centers:
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You Can Get Free Weekly Credit Reports Amid the COVID-19 Crisis originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 03/05/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.