Wallet Hacks

Waterfall Method: How I Check My Credit Reports 3x a Year for Free

The Fair Credit Reporting Act grants you the right to get a copy of your consumer credit report every year, absolutely free. If someone's going to collect data about you and make credit decisions based on that information, you should have the right to review it for accuracy. Getting your credit report each year is a must.

That doesn't mean you should get them all at once. Oh no; you'd be squandering a good opportunity.

You should use the Waterfall Method. There are three major credit bureaus, so stagger your free credit reports so you can keep an eye on them throughout the year.

The three reports aren't identical, since a company won't always report to every bureau. So your Experian report might be slightly different than your Equifax report, but they're going to be pretty close.

With the Waterfall Method, you still see each report from each bureau once a year but now you get to see a credit report three times a year. If anything funny happens, you'll know about it sooner.

The Waterfall Method

It's simple.

There are three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

There are twelve months.

I check one credit report, through AnnualCreditReport.com, every four months. Boom. Math!

Here's the schedule I use (it doesn't matter when you start):

If it's the first time you're checking your report (ever), check them all at once. You need to make sure none of them have errors. Errors are common and they take time to fix, so get on that.

Then, after a year, you can get more reports. Here's where you stagger them by four months so you get a snapshot throughout the year.

I've probably found five or six errors in the last 15 years. From random addresses (I learned this gem on a background check for a security clearance!), to accounts that weren't mine, to an extra Social Security Number! Most were easy to fix because they weren't mine to begin with, but all of them took time.

My Reminder System

I remember to do this by setting up email reminders. I used to put it in my calendar but I found I was dismissing the reminders but forgetting to check my reports. I was far better with emails since deleting was a bigger step than dismissing a pop up.

If you want to get reminded, you can use the form below. It just sends you emails to remind you to do it and puts you on our newsletter (if you're already on the newsletter, you'll only get the newsletter once).

Get reminders to check your credit reports

I check my credit report every four months from each of the three big credit bureaus (read why). If you want reminders every four months, sign up below. This service is free, it's just a few emails over and over again. 🙂 You'll also be signed up to my awesome newsletter.