Get your credit reports all at once or spread them out?

Space trailPhoto courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

If you’ve been thinking that I’ve been silent about the Equifax breach because I haven’t cared, you’d be wrong.

Instead, I’ve been feeling a mix of fear and despair, not unlike what I felt on November 9th this past year, a realization (or maybe a refresher) that supremely incompetent people are running the show, and we are at their mercy.

We can hope to change some regulations surrounding the obligations these companies have to protect our information (that we never really gave them permission to hold on to in the first place), but I wouldn’t hold your breath on this.

One thing you can do, need to do, stop everything to do, is to get your credit report.

(Don’t get confused, I’m not talking about your credit score. Don’t worry about that.)

One conversation that has come up a bit recently, in light of all the recent incompetence, is how often to get your credit report. There are at least two camps. Let’s look at each.

Reminder: you can get your credit report for free

It seems hard to believe now, but there was time when you couldn’t see your own credit report.

But then, with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, this was allowed.

(Again, this was a regulation put in place to benefit consumers against companies that want to screw us. That’s what regulations are for.)

These days, with the passage of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act you are allowed to access your credit reports from the three big agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) once every 12 months.

This is done by date, not by calendar year, so you can’t get your report on December 31st and then again on January 1st. If it’s been 12 months or longer since you’ve seen your report, you’re eligible to see it again.

Seeing your credit report is an unequivocally good thing. You want to know what information companies have on you, who’s been asking for your credit history, and—most importantly—if there are any errors.

Might there be errors? Oh hell yes. If these turkeys can’t keep your information secured on their servers, what makes you think that the information is even likely to be correct?

And as always, what you don’t know can screw you.

When to get your credit report

It is imperative that you view your credit report at minimum once a year.

But with three different reporting agencies, you have to do everything three times. So there are two strategies for getting your free credit report.

Option 1: Get all three at once

In this way, you get all reports at once, and are able to compare them all equally.

The advantage of this is that an error is usually not going to be on all the reports, so they are more easily determined. The downside of this method, though, is that you have to wait a whole year in between one reading and the next, and a lot can happen in a year.

Option 2: Stagger your reports throughout the year

You don’t need to get all three of your free reports at once. On the page where you sign up, you are given a choice.

annualcreditreport.com

If only these companies didn’t have so much power over us. Sigh.

So the idea is to view one of them every four months, so you’re seeing some report more often.

The advantage to this is increased frequency of viewing reports, but at the expense of a little more of an administrative headache (make sure you set your calendar to remind you when you’re eligible again, as no one is going to tell you).

Option 3: Pay for your credit reports

Let’s not forget that paying for your credit reports is an option too.

You could get your three free reports in January, and then pay for them in July, thus getting you more access to your reports.

A brief swing through the three sites doesn’t inspire much confidence, though. They all seem to be relatively opaque about their pricing, and it’s clear that they ache to sell you extra unnecessary products and services. Caveat emptor.

My verdict

Personally, I opt for Option 1, getting all my reports for free once a year. I do this because I believe it’s more important to look at all the reports together, to check for discrepancies and errors, than it is to see each report in a staggered fashion. And besides, what if one of my single reports has an error on it, that happens right after I’ve viewed it for free? Then I’m in the exact same situation.

And besides, you are eligible to receive a free credit report (in addition to the yearly free one) in certain circumstances, such as if you have reason to believe that your file contains inaccurate information due to fraud.

Which gives me an idea.

Since our information was stolen from Equifax, and therefore there’s a chance that we will be subject to fraud for the rest of our lives, I wonder if anyone has tried to claim that they might be subject to fraud every month from here to forever, to get their free credit reports in perpetuity.

Anyone want to try this?

But enough about me. When do you get your credit reports?

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on September 25, 2017