We have all heard that we should check all three major credit reports at least once a year and some experts recommend checking it two or three times a year.  There are several good reasons for this.  One, your credit reports and credit scores directly impact your ability to obtain credit and the terms of that credit.  For a big purchase, such as a car or home, the difference could be thousands of dollars over time.  Second, reviewing your reports regularly allows you to spot fraud and identity theft.  Third, you can dispute any incorrect entries, which often takes several weeks.  If you have poor credit, you can check on your progress in improving it.  Finally, if you are facing a possible Bankruptcy filing, it can be a reminder of debts you may have forgotten about and identify collection agencies that need to be served.  Under federal law, you are allowed to get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once every twelve months.  The only place to get these three free reports is AnnualCreditReport.Com.  Although people who have not checked their reports in a while should check all three now, they can then stagger the three reports and get one free one every four months (thus you get all three free every 12 months).  For many people, especially while building their credit or in the months leading up to a new home purchase, it is worth the money to purchase reports beyond the free ones. 

Note that I used the term “truly free.”  This means free of charge and free of any attached strings.  There are numerous services that advertise free reports, including one heavy advertiser that conveniently has “free credit report” as the name of its website (the link is intentionally omitted).  Free is free, right? No.  Virtually all of the other services offering or advertising free reports are set up to get you to purchase additional products or services such as credit monitoring or credit repair.  Many lenders may also use free reports as a way to get your information and then solicit you for loans.  It is easy to give you “free” reports that only cost them a few dollars when they can sell you much more expensive services.  Remember, you have given them your name, address, and probably your social security number!  Many also ask for a credit card number to sign you up for a “free trial” of their services, then make it very difficult to cancel.  Never give them a credit/debit card number!  You can not only expect to be spammed by that company, but they will sell your information to other companies and your inbox and voice mail will blow up with spam.  This is for the “legitimate” companies.  There are also websites that are outright scams.  If you need reports in addition to the free ones at annualcreditreport.com, it is safer to purchase them directly from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  You can also obtain your FICO credit scores from each of the companies.  Unfortunately, the bureaus themselves have special offers and various services they will offer you, but they are still safer than most other websites and are heavily regulated by the government.