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Question: Your commentators always suggest it is a good idea to obtain a “free” credit report from each of the three credit-reporting agencies. However, the reports are not actually free and I discover that I am required to provide a credit card number. What gives? Thanks for any enlightenment you can provide. Jan, Tallahassee, FL

Answer: It’s true. By federal law, everyone can get a copy of their credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus for free once a year.

However, there is only one authorized provider of the service, AnnualCreditReport.com. You go through this service. Ignore any ads on the radio or cable TV that promise you a “free” credit report, too. They’re all looking for a buck. Head to AnnualCreditReport.com for your free reports.

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