Before the pandemic, the Fair Credit Reporting Act required that consumers be given free access to their credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus just once a year.
But because credit reports have long been plagued by high error rates—accounts that have been paid off but are still shown as open, or items reported as being in collections that aren’t yours—that once-a-year access was never enough, says Syed Ejaz, financial policy analyst at CR. “It meant consumers had limited opportunity to find and fix mistakes,” he says.
Those mistakes can be costly. For one thing, they can lower your overall credit score, the three-digit number based on information in your credit report. Having a low credit score can mean being denied access to credit or a loan, or having to pay more for it in the form of higher interest rates.
“Having free access to your credit report is the surest way to double-check their accuracy and make the needed corrections before trying to apply for a mortgage or other loan,” Ejaz says.
For that reason, CR is sending a letter today to all three credit bureaus, asking them to continue this free access, he says. And anyone who wants the free, weekly access to continue can sign CR’s petition, he adds.
“You should have the right to inspect [your credit report] for free at any time,” says Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program at U.S. PIRG, a policy and research organization, and a CR board member.
That’s true even if you are not in the market for a new credit card or loan, says Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. She says credit reports and scores are used to evaluate people in many different circumstances. “People who need a new apartment, people looking for a job, people needing to insure their car, and home—their credit report comes into play in all of these situations,” she says.
Another reason that frequent access to credit reports—and the ability to correct mistakes that comes with that access—is important: “Your current creditors could cancel your credit cards or raise your interest rates based on a review of your report,” Mierzwinski says.