As a small business owner, it’s very important to be aware and up to date on your credit reports. While it sounds like a pain, it’s actually relatively easy to get them for free. You should also be aware of your FICO scores and how to get them for free.
How to get your free credit reports
A lot of companies will try to sell you a credit report or credit score. You shouldn’t have to pay for a credit report. Under the law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act), you are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Note that your FICO score may vary depending on which bureau provides it.
To fulfill their requirements of providing free credit reports, the three credit bureaus came together to establish AnnualCreditReport.com, which you should use to get your free credit reports. They won’t give you your credit scores for free, and will try to upsell you on it, but there are a couple options for getting your credit scores for free (see “Get your credit score for free” below).
To get your free credit report, you’ll have to fill out an online form. They’ll ask you questions to verify your identity, including information relating to where you’ve lived and questions regarding your credit cards, loans and mortgages. Try to have access to this information before filling out the form.
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Next, you’ll choose which of the three bureaus you want to get credit reports from. Each bureau gives you one free report a year, so some people prefer to spread out their requests across the year so that they can better monitor their credit. If this is your first time looking at your credit report, it may be a good idea to request all three. Banks and lenders will often get your FICO score from more than one bureau. Since you don’t know which of the three bureaus they use, it’s a good to get all three to compare them and know where you stand with each.
For each credit bureau you select, you’ll be asked a few questions to verify your identity. Some of the questions can be quite detailed (e.g. – how much your car payment was several years ago). Answer carefully, because you only get one chance and if you get it wrong, you’ll have to make an offline request. You’d have to print out a form and and mail it, and then they’d mail you back your credit report, which requires both more effort and time. Assuming you answered the questions correctly, you’ll be shown your credit report. Be sure to print or save a copy of your report! Once you’ve closed the window you’ll have to wait a year before you can get it for free again.
Getting your credit scores
Currently, your options for getting your actual FICO scores for free are limited. Some banks will include your credit score when you open a new credit card account with them. In February, Discover started offering all their credit card holders the option to include FICO scores on their monthly statements for free.
Another option is to use a service that gives you a non-FICO credit score, sometimes referred to as “FAKO” scores. Some people consider these to be fake credit scores because it’s not the real FICO score that banks and lenders request. While we wouldn’t recommend ever paying for a FAKO score, there are a few services that offer these types of credit scores for free, along with free and paid credit monitoring services.
CreditKarma will show you a credit score using TransUnion data, Credit Sesame using Experian, and Quizzle using Equifax. While they don’t give you a true FICO score, they do give you an idea of where you stand. While some people would argue that these are worthless, there are arguments for the usefulness of using these services.
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