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The Magnificent 7: Where state laws get you extra free credit reports

A handful of states guarantee you an extra peek at your credit

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Everyone loves a freebie, so residents of seven states may be happy to know that state law grants them a free extra copy of their credit report every 12 months. 

The Magnificent 7: Where state laws get you extra credit reports That's one from each of the three major credit bureaus, in addition to the one that federal law promises to all citizens every 12 months. That works out to six free credit reports a year for residents of Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont. 

Most residents of those states don't know about that extra report, though, and the big credit bureaus don't exactly advertise it. Getting them takes some legwork, but experts say it's worth the effort: Frequent peeks at your credit report can mean better financial health.You can find and scrub errors faster, and see what you're doing right and wrong.

Important, but little-known rule
Federal law guarantees each consumer the right to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- every 12 months. That right comes from the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (better known as the FACT Act), which became law in 2003 as an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Due to the recession, overall awareness of credit report availability is rising. Nationwide awareness jumped to 53 percent in November 2010 from 37 percent in July 2010, according to Freescore.com, a Norwalk, Conn.-based for-profit credit information site.

But in the seven "extra credit report" states, word about the additional report doesn't seem to have gotten out. A call to the Colorado Attorney General's office, for instance, yielded a telephonic blank stare: "Nobody knows anything about the law other than that it exists," says Mike Saccone, communications director.

How to get them
Getting that extra credit report isn't as easy as getting your first one, however. Your initial free report should come from AnnualCreditReport.com -- the official government-mandated site for obtaining free credit reports. A few clicks on that site and a few minutes later, you're all set. To get the second one isn't so simple.

Residents of the seven "extra free report" states must contact the three major credit bureaus to request their reports. Each bureau features a different process, spelled out below.

Equifax: Visit www.Equifax.com/FCRA. After filling out the name, address and Social Security number fields, check "Free State Credit File" under the "Reason for Credit File Request" header.

Experian: The "Check Credit Report" page on Experian.com requests that consumers call (866) 200-6020 to confirm their eligibility and to request their extra free credit report via snail mail. The automated phone system uses the caller's area code to identify their location and then provides options based on where the person is calling from. 

TransUnion: Visit TransUnion's "Learn More About Getting Your FACT Act Free Credit Report" page. On that page, click the link that says, "Learn more about obtaining a free credit report if you meet one of the above conditions." On the next page, click "Yes, I am eligible" next to option No. 4. You'll then be taken to a page where you can choose your state of residence so you can get your free report.

Credit reports requested online are available immediately and are encrypted for security reasons, says Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian, the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based credit bureau. Reports requested by telephone take about seven to 10 days to reach consumers by mail. Mailed reports do not include information dangerous in the wrong hands, such as the consumer's entire Social Security number.

Why it matters
After a few costly experiences with look-alike websites, Donna Trimarco, a resident of Lumberton, N.J., got a free report after attending a financial services seminar at Fort Dix, N.J., where she is an administrative assistant.

The report revealed a few surprises, including a lien on her house. Still, Trimarco was glad to have the information, as she needs a new car and wants to get a student loan to finish her master's degree.

She admits to a checkered financial past, including a bankruptcy, but hopes regular review of her credit report will help her plan a rosier future. "If I keep my act together, it means looking at everything, each credit report," Trimarco says.

Indeed, experts advise obtaining as many free reports as are due you, and timing them to arrive regularly. Taren Coleman, president of Coleman Financial Group, a financial advising firm in Bethesda, Md., advises clients to obtain reports at least once a quarter. Consumers are better able to spot, and correct, mistakes if they pull reports often, says Coleman.

Coleman also advises thinking ahead. For instance, if you plan to purchase a house or car or refinance your home, study your credit report before the bank does. The advantage? "No surprises, no errors," Coleman says.

See related: How to get your free consumer credit report, The 5 basic part of a FICO score, State-by-state list of bankruptcy filings, 5 key federal laws that protect cardholders

Published: January 7, 2011



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