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Consumer Reports

New law enables one free credit report per year | (KRT) Beginning Dec. 1, all U.S. residents will be allowed one free credit report per year under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

Checking your credit report is a vital step before you invest in a mortgage or take out a personal, business or auto loan. Your credit file can reveal black marks - such as late payments, overdraft charges or other problems - that can prevent you from getting a lender's best interest rates. It can also help you determine if you've been a victim of identity theft.

The so-called FACT Act phases in the one free report per year across the nation, as follows:

Dec. 1, 2004: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

March 1, 2005: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

June 1, 2005: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

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September 1, 2005: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

If you want your credit report earlier, some states already provide one free credit report per year to their residents. They are: Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont.

You are also currently entitled to one free report every 12 months no matter where you live, if:

You are unemployed and intend to apply for unemployment benefits.

You are receiving public welfare assistance.

You believe you have been a victim of fraud or identity theft.

You have been denied credit, insurance or employment due to your credit record.

To get a copy of your credit report, contact one of the three credit agencies that collect information on you and your personal financial actions. Call Equifax at 1-800-997-2493, Experian at 1-800-397-3742, or Trans Union at 1-800-888-4213.

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