After nearly a year long phase-in, consumers across the United States now have the right to an annual free credit report from each of the three main credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. As of September 1 the last regions phased in included the Eastern states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all U.S. territories.

Although residents of Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont could already access a free credit report under state law, the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT) has made it a right for every American. The phase-in started December 1, 2004 with the Western states, followed by the Midwest on March 1, 2005, and the South on June 1, 2005.

Experts emphasize the importance of checking credit reports annually to correct errors and watch for identity theft and fraud. Scott Bilker, creator of and author of Talk Your Way out of Credit Card Debt, says,

cardbenefits “Consumers should know their credit report is their financial résumé. And they’ll be judged on it, so it’s not something to ignore. They should hop on this opportunity to get their free credit reports.”

Consumers have three options for requesting their free annual report: online at, calling toll free 877-322-8228, or completing a form available through or the FTC(Federal Trade Commission) and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

It’s important to go through the Annual Credit Report service because the credit reporting agencies charge a fee unless consumers meet other criteria such as being denied a loan, placing a fraud alert, or applying for unemployment. Also, the free credit report does not include a credit score, which consumers can purchase for a small fee. Please visit the Credit Information section of our website for more information.

Consumers who choose the online option receive the reports immediately, but they are required to go through an authentication process. The process includes providing a social security number and answering a number of questions. Those unable to authenticate their identity receive instructions for getting their reports through the mail (this is not a sign of fraudulent activity or identity theft).

We welcome your comments about credit report issues in our popular credit forum!