How Many Times Can I Get a Free Credit Report?

In the world of credit there are plenty of things to be confused about.  Credit scoring, risk management, insurance scores, employment screening, pre-screening, the value of credit inquiries…one thing after another.  What I never thought would be confusing would be the frequency with which we can get free copies of our credit reports.  I think I was wrong.

It’s getting close to the end of the year and I’m working on articles that list “end of the year” advice and I always include “claim your free credit reports” as a suggestion.  It occurred to me that the frequency can be confusing so I figured I’d clear it up once and for all.  Here’s how often you get free credit reports…

Free credit reports, those available at www.annualcreditreport.com are based on a rolling 12 months rather than a calendar 12 months. So, you don’t get free credit reports each year…you get free credit reports every 12 months.  But when does that 12 months begin and when does it end.  That answer is going to differ.

Think of it this way…

If You’ve Never Claimed Free Credit Reports, Ever

The free credit report law (FACTA amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act back in 2003) has been around since 2004-ish. I say “ish” because it was deployed from West coast to East coast over the period of 1 year. Still, we’ve all had the right for free annual credit reports for about 8 years now. If you’ve never claimed any of them, ever, then you’ve sacrificed 24 free credit reports (3 for each 12 month period since the law was enacted). They do not roll over to the next year and accumulate.

If you don’t ever claim them then you lose them.  It sounds absurd that people would ignore their free credit report rights for 8 years, but it happens. Only 4% of free credit reports are claimed each year, which means hundreds of millions go unclaimed.

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If You Have Claimed Them in The Past

This is easier to explain using a hypothetical. If you claimed all three of your free credit reports in June 2012 then you’ll have to wait until June 2013 to claim them again. The definition of “annual” for you is every 12 months beginning in June 2012.

If you claimed one of your three free credit reports, from Experian for example, in June 2012 then you’ll have to wait until at least June 2013 to claim your Experian credit report again.  But, you can claim your Equifax and TransUnion reports at any time, as long as it has been at least 12 months since the last time you claimed them.

Credit Reporting Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.  Follow him on Twitter here.