Everyone is entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. That means that, by law, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion must let you check your credit reports annually without paying a penny.
Sometimes you need more than one credit report in a year. Additional reports are free under certain circumstances, like becoming a fraud victim. Otherwise, the Federal Trade Commission lets the bureaus charge you up to $11 per credit report. That's still a fairly reasonable fee...if you can find as.
As you'll see in the video accompanying this article, the credit bureaus don't want you getting off cheap. They bury the link to the legally required $11 credit reports among a forest of links for expensive options and services like credit scores, subscriptions, and monthly credit monitoring.
Don't fall for the upsells. If you only need a credit report, make sure that's all you order. Even if you find the spot where you can get your $11 credit report on each of the three credit bureau websites, they'll probably try to get you to buy more when you do your online check out. Read everything carefully, including the small print, and watch out for pre-checked opt-in boxes.
Most of the time, you won't have to order any credit reports other than your free annual copies. Stagger your orders to cover the entire year. For example, make January the month you get your Experian credit report. Order from Equifax in May, then finish up with TransUnion in September. Start all over again the following year.