At the start of a new year, many of us make resolutions. Whether or not yours included any financial goals, the beginning of the year is an opportunity for you to take stock of your financial situation and check your credit. And federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company.

What exactly is your credit report? It is made up of the information contained in your credit file – for example, it contains a list of the companies that issued credit to you, the payments you’ve made on loans or credit cards, how often you paid them on time, and how much you paid. Since each of the companies gathers the information differently, there may be some differences between the reports. And credit reports are important because it is what lenders check when deciding to give you a loan or credit – having a good credit score will help you get a lower interest rate.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) must provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months. So why do you want a copy of your credit report? There are two good reasons: first, to ensure that the information it contains is accurate and second, to guard against identity theft.

Consumers are entitled to get a report free from each company. You can request them all at once, or ask for one every few months. Spreading your requests out over the course of the year is one way that some experts suggest you can monitor the accuracy of the information contained in your reports.

It’s possible that when you receive your report, it may contain errors. The FCRA requires that the both the credit reporting company and the information provider correct inaccuracies or incomplete information contained in your report. Consumers should contact the credit reporting company in writing to let them know what they believe is in accurate.

How to Order Your Credit Report

You can order your free credit report either online, by phone, or by mail. The website you need to visit to do this online is www.annualcreditreport.com. Please note that this is the only website authorized the law to fill the orders for free credit reports. There are many websites that claim to offer free credit reports and other “free” credit-related items, but consumers should be aware that these services may come with strings attached and could end up costing them money.

The phone number to call for your free annual credit report is 1-877-322-8228, or consumers can complete an “Annual Credit Report Request Form” and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

Additional Information

For detailed information how to correct or dispute an item, the FTC offers consumer information at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports. This article also contains helpful information, including the length of time negative information can be reported, who can get a copy of your credit report, addresses other situations in which consumers may be eligible for a free credit report, and more.