You probably know that the information contained in your credit report is critically important. And you probably also know that you are entitled to a free copy of your report. Here’s how to get a copy, and what you need to know about the process.

The US government says that citizens can request a free credit report from each of the “big three” credit reporting companies once a year. That means that you can get up to three free credit reports every 12 months, one each from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It is a good idea to make sure you get your copy from these companies.

A credit report includes information about where you live and how good you are (or have been) in paying your bills. It also reports on legal actions such as bankruptcy or lawsuits against you. Banks and other creditors rely on this information when making a decision about offering you credit.

You can order your free credit report from each of the three reporting companies via one website, www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Or you can call 1-877-322-8228, toll-free, and order that way. You can also simply mail your request (after you download the form and fill it out).

You will need to supply your full name, social security number and date of birth. This may be the only time you should enter that information on a web page! Be absolutely certain that the web address in your browser includes the ‘https’ prefix; it should be https://www.annualcreditreport.com/requestReport/requestForm.action. If the “https” isn’t there, or the last part of the web site isn’t “annualcreditreport.com” close your browser and try again. Or simply call that toll-free number.

Other considerations

If you are requesting your credit report online, via your computer browser, you should get your credit report immediately. Otherwise it may take several days, perhaps as much as 2 weeks, to get the report.

If you find errors in your credit report, you should promptly contact the reporting company and let them know. (Some media reports suggest this process is a difficult one, but credit reporting companies refute this claim by saying most credit reports are accurate because of a good system of collection and correction.) This notification should be in writing, and should be specific. You should also notify the party reporting the inaccuracy. More details about this process are on the FTC’s consumer protection website.

Get more detailed information.

Your credit report is an important indicator of your personal economic condition. Be informed about what it says, and make sure you manage it well.

More information about credit reports, including details not included in this post can be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s web page “Free Credit Reports”.