On the journey toward building and maintaining great credit, nothing is more important than keeping a close eye on your credit report. This one little habit can ensure any mistaken entries are caught early, and any fraud or misuse of your good credit doesn’t adversely impact your credit score. The best way to check your credit report is through a free service mandated by the federal government, called AnnualCreditReport.com.
Through this free website, consumers can order a copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once each year — free of charge. Of course, as with any major undertaking, AnnualCreditReport.com has received its share of complaints from users of the service. Keep reading for our Annual Credit Report review, including insight into some of the biggest complaints users have made regarding the website.
AnnualCreditReport.com is an Official Government Resource
The AnnualCreditReport.com service was mandated by the federal government as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003. In turn, FACTA is an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) passed by Congress in 1970.
What all of this means to consumers is that the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — are required by law to provide free access to the credit reports they keep on all of us. As part of this mandate, the credit agencies were required to set up and maintain the website AnnualCreditReport.com for consumers to request their free report from each agency once every 12 months. By visiting the website and providing answers to some identity verification questions, you get immediate access to any or all three of your reports.
In addition to the website, a toll-free number is also provided for consumers who wish to request their credit report over the phone. Once your personal information is verified, a copy of your report will be mailed to your home address.
A third way to request your report is to complete the Annual Credit Report request form, and mail it to the Annual Credit Report Request Service in Atlanta, Georgia.
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Further details on all three of these methods can be found on the FTC’s Consumer Information website.
5 Common Complaints
Despite the best efforts on the part of the federal government and the three reporting agencies to make AnnualCreditReport.com an efficient and easy-to-use tool, there have been some complaints about the system. According to Consumer Affairs and other independent review sources, users of the website have reported problems with the ID verification process and trouble accessing some credit reports. Other complaints include misleading representation of what this service provides. Here are details of some of the most common complaints.
1. Reports are Free, but Credit Scores are Not Included
Users of the system who expect to receive a copy of their credit score along with the free credit report are bound to be disappointed. That’s because the parameters of this government-mandated service do not include the FICO-based credit score that the agencies also compile. Because of this, many users of AnnualCreditReport.com have called it a “scam” that ends up costing them money in the end.
While the reporting agencies do offer the option of paying to get a copy of your credit score, that service is not required. If you want to access your credit score after receiving your free annual credit report — or at any time — you can always do so through FICO’s official website.
But, you may already have access to your credit score for free through a company you’re already doing business with. Before you pay to see your score, check this list of financial institutions and credit card issuers that offer members free FICO scores — accessing your credit score could be as simple as logging into your online banking portal.
2. Users Report Trouble Accessing Experian Report
One of the more common issues reported by consumers involves trouble gaining access to the Experian credit report. While all three agencies occasionally have technical problems that temporarily affect access, Experian seems to garner the most complaints.
One explanation for this anomaly may have to do with the process that each agency follows when you request your report. You see, when you make your request you are directed to the website of the individual companies to complete the process. After that, handling of the request and the verification procedure is entirely in the hands of each organization. Although Experian has not confirmed internal error rates higher than the other two agencies, it is within the realm of possibility that their procedures result in more access errors.
3. Confusing Captcha
Captcha is a service that many websites use to verify human interaction as opposed to access by automated programs or bots. Most of us have come across Captcha images that are difficult to decipher and result in a temporary denial of access to a website. Many of the complaints from users of the AnnualCreditReport.com service list confusing Captcha images as a reason for their dissatisfaction. This is entirely possible, but is also preventable, as any Captcha field can be reloaded or refreshed until a less confusing image appears.
4. You Can Only Access Your Report Every 12 Months
Another commonly listed complaint is the restriction placed upon accessing your free credit report to only once per year. Apparently, some consumers believe this applies to once every calendar year, when in fact, it means one time every 12 months. One easy way around this restriction — and one we highly recommend — is to request a single report from a different agency every four months. In this way, you can access your free report throughout the year, and begin again with agency number one exactly 12 months later.
5. Identification Process Can be Tricky
Since protecting your personal and financial information is of the utmost importance to the credit rating agencies, a sophisticated identity verification process is used when you make your request. It involves questions that are derived from various entries in your credit report such as previous employment, past residences, purchases or transactions made, etc. It is important to realize that some of the questions may result in a “None” or “Does Not Apply” as the correct answer. By carefully reading and answering these questions, most people should have no problem with the identification process.
Despite Its Glitches, AnnualCreditReport.com is Not a Scam
While it does have its share of valid (and sometimes not so valid) complaints, AnnualCreditReport.com is, in fact, a legitimate and very useful service. The amount of effort that has gone into developing such a secure, yet usable, website for American consumers is to be commended.
Does the complexity involved sometimes lead to problems accessing credit reports? Sure. But in all, the credit rating agencies and the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees this program, have a lot to be proud of.
If you haven’t yet taken advantage of the opportunity to get a free copy of your credit report from all three reporting agencies, you need to give it a try yourself. We’re sure, as with the majority of consumers who have successfully used the service, you’ll be glad you did.