The Federal Trade Commission has issued a final rule that requires the three major credit-reporting agencies to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months.As mandated by Congress, the final rule requires Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union to create a centralized facility that consumers can contact by mail, the Internet, or a toll-free telephone number to request a free credit report. Access to free credit reports is being phased in, however, and it will not be universal until Sept. 1, 2005. Eligibility for free reports depends on the state where the consumer lives. Western states will become eligible on Dec. 1, 2004; Midwestern states on March 1, 2005; Southern states on June 1, 2005; and Eastern states and all U.S. territories on Sept. 1, 2005.

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