How do I order my free annual consumer credit reports? What is the “centralized source” and how do I contact it?

Under the new federal law, consumers can request their free credit reports through a central web site, toll-free telephone line, and by mail and will have the option of making a single request to get copies of their report from all three major credit bureaus. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers can order their credit reports by clicking on http://www.annualcreditreport.com, or calling 877-322-8228, or filling out the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The form is available through the Federal Trade Commission’s web site at: http://www.ftc.gov/credit

You can ask for copies from all three bureaus at the same time. The advantage of doing this is that you can get a complete picture of your consumer credit report history that could be reported to others. However, if you want to monitor the accuracy of your consumer credit reports throughout the year, request your report from one bureau initially, then follow up with another bureau’s report four months later and the third four months after that. This is an effective way to monitor your credit at no cost.

You are entitled to receive your annual consumer credit reports for free. You are NOT required to purchase any other services, such as credit monitoring or your credit score, in order to receive your free annual consumer credit reports. However, because your credit score can be used to make judgments about you even without your credit file, we recommend that you obtain it.

You can purchase your credit score from one or more of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies for a fair or reasonable fee. The amount that consumer credit reporting agencies can charge you for your credit score must be set by the FTC and as of this date has not been published. You may also get your credit score for free from some home lenders.

To decide how many credit scores you should buy, we recommend that you first review your consumer credit reports from all three major reporting agencies. If they contain the same information about you, then purchase your credit score from only one consumer credit reporting agency. If your consumer credit reports vary, buy your scores from all three because the scores may vary. You do not want to be denied credit or charged more for credit simply because one consumer credit reporting agency reported a score that was not based on accurate and complete information.