Q: We need to improve our credit history and score. We always see a lot of ads for free credit reports. Is this for real? Or, should we pay for this information?

A: I wish everyone would ask this question before handing over their credit card information to a website that purports to give you your “credit history for free.”

There are few things in life that are free — fortunately, you can get a free copy of your credit history from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus once a year.

The only website to go to is www.AnnualCreditReport.com. The three major credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion, sponsor this one website that allows you to get your free credit histories. The program is being rolled out over the course of the year.

As I write this, residents in the West Coast and Midwest states can access their free credit reports now. Residents in the Southeast will be able to access their free credit reports starting June 1st, and Northeastern residents will be able to access their free credit reports as of September 1st. If you’re not sure if you can gain free access to your credit history, log onto the website.

While your credit history may be free, gaining access to your credit score is not. However, when you get your free credit report, you’ll be given a chance to buy a copy of your credit score for $6.95. This is a good deal, so if you’re interested in knowing what your credit score is, this would be the place to buy it.

(FYI You will be asked for your credit card number if you choose to buy a copy of your credit score. Otherwise, you will not be asked for this information.)

To make the most of your free three credit histories, you should pull a copy from each of the credit reporting bureaus once every four months. That way, you’ll have a year’s worth of free credit histories.

The website has good information on improving your credit, but the best information I’ve found is at the MyFico.com website, co-sponsored by Equifax and Fair Isaacs, the company that invented the credit score. All of this information is available on the site for free. If you follow the advice, your credit history will improve and your score will rise.