Pursuant to FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) and FACTA (Fair And Accurate Credit Transactions Act), you're entitled to a copy of your credit report from all three national credit reporting agencies each year, at no charge.
"Official" information from the FTC can be found here:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/c ... eports.htm
The official website for requesting the free annual disclosures is:
Beware, as noted on the FTC page referenced above, that there are many "spoof" sites that have mushroomed on the web. Many of these sites have URLs similar to that of the official site...but obviously the aim of the website operator is to charge you for a copy of your credit report.
When in doubt, only access the official annual credit report site from a link on the ftc.gov domain.
You are also entitled to a free copy of your credit file under certain other circumstances, like when you've been denied credit or employment and the information in your credit report was used as a basis for the decision or if you are on a public assistance program and are looking for work.
Aside from the Federal laws, there is a maze of State laws that govern credit reporting. A quick Google search or a query to your State's Attorney General will get you state-specific information.
Credit scores ranges vary depending on which risk model is used to calculate any given score. The three national CRAs all use their own proprietary score models. The most well known score model is "FICO" named after the company that created it, Fair Issac and Company. Generally credit scores range from 350-850, with higher scores being "better".
While your "consumer disclosure" credit report will contain all the information that forms the basis of a credit score, the score itself will not appear on the annual credit disclosure
If you really want to see your score, you can purchase it directly from the credit reporting agencies for a nominal fee or from any of the countless intermediaries. An additional benefit of purchasing your credit report and score from one of these companies is that generally the information is presented in a more consumer-friendly and useful manner, as opposed to the pretty drab and sometimes confusing presentation on a consumer disclosure.
Check out the following websites to purchase your credit score and/or report:
As I mentioned, since all three national CRAs use a different score model, rarely, if ever, will all three of your scores match. For this reason, among others, often a creditor will look at more than one repository or pull what's called a "tri-merge" credit report before granting credit.
It is a very good practice to review your credit file for inaccuracies frequently as incorrect information can cost you a lot of money in higher interest rates.
You are right, too many credit inquiries will lower your credit score...so do try to be diligent about who is allowed access to your credit data.
However, since consumers generally "shop around" for favorable deals when making a purchase using credit, risk models generally allow for this by treating all inquiries within a certain timeframe, generally 30 days, as if it were a single inquiry.
So, if you're shopping for an auto loan, as long as you complete your comparison-shopping within a 30 day period, you can generally have multiple inquiries into your credit file from various lenders with only one "hit" to your score.
If the purpose for the multiple inquiries is to monitor your credit score, you can purchase credit monitoring services from all three national CRAs that do that automatically for you. The benefit of such services is a personal decision.
You should also look into a unique new service offered by lifelock (http://www.lifelock.com
) that insulates you from credit fraud to a large extent.
I hope this helps. Post again if you have any questions I've left unanswered.