credit & debt

Get a Free Credit Report More Than Once a Year

A new service from Credit Karma provides access to your TransUnion credit report any time at no charge.

Consumers are entitled to receive a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It's the law. These free yearly credit reports can be requested online at AnnualCreditReport.com. But for anyone who thinks a once-a-year check isn't enough, there's good news: Credit-monitoring Web site Credit Karma is offering consumers the ability to examine their TransUnion credit report free of charge any time they want.

Credit Karma, Credit Sesame and Credit.com all have been providing consumers with the ability to check credit scores for free and get an overview of their credit profile. But Credit Karma is the first to give its 25 million registered users free access to a full credit report from TransUnion, which is updated once a week.

Since 2012, Credit Karma has offered free credit monitoring that notifies those who enroll in the program if there are meaningful changes to their TransUnion credit report, such as a new account opened in their name or a change of address on an account. While these alerts can be useful in flagging potential problems, Credit Karma CEO Ken Lin says users were seeking the added ability to review their credit report as needed without charge to determine if an alert was the result of a legitimate problem such as fraud or creditor error.

So to make it easier for consumers to monitor their TransUnion credit report on an ongoing basis, Credit Karma launched its newest free service July 30 – and it’s already the Web site’s most popular tool, Lin says. As part of the service, Credit Karma pinpoints areas in users’ TransUnion credit reports that need improvement and offers advice on how to make those improvements. The consumer-friendly version of the report includes advertisements for financial products based on a user’s credit profile, but the full printable report does not, Lin says.

It is wise to check your credit report for mistakes, considering that a 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that one in four consumers had errors in their credit reports that might affect their credit scores and, in turn, lead them to pay more for loans. Plus, given the frequency of security breaches at businesses and other institutions, regular checks of your credit reports can help you spot suspicious activity on your accounts that could indicate that you’re a victim of identity theft.

But do you need to check your credit reports each week? True, your credit reports change multiple times each month as creditors update accounts, but viewing your reports every seven days would “be like watching grass grow,” says John Ulzheimer, the credit expert at Credit Sesame, which is a Credit Karma competitor.

Lin says that it makes sense for consumers who are trying to improve their credit or have a significant number of errors on their credit reports to check weekly. Otherwise, a monthly or even quarterly check would be sufficient, he says.

Even though you can get your TransUnion report for free now through Credit Karma (TransUnion charges $17.95 for unlimited access), you’ll still have to pay for your credit reports from the other two bureaus if you want to see them more than the once a year that you are entitled to through AnnualCreditReport.com. Information on each bureau’s report can vary, so it is worthwhile to check all three.

Experian charges $1 for its credit report and score for a seven-day trial, then $19.95 per month. Equifax charges $17.95 per month for access to credit reports and scores from all three of the bureaus, or $15.95 for an Equifax report and score available for 30 days.

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