Monday, February 15, 2010

Life for Less: Free* Credit Report

(a.k.a. Will the *REAL free credit report please stand up?)

If you've turned on your TV anytime in the last 5 years, you've probably heard the jingle (note that I am not linking to their website -- hear me out on this one). And you probably took the ads at face value, assuming that if you were to go to you'd get, well, a free credit report. Not so fast.

If you ventured to the web site, you'd click on a big button that said "Click here to see your FREE credit report & score." This is where I stopped my little experiment, because I know the trick that they're about to pull. If you were to proceed at this point, you'd (unknowingly) sign yourself up for a credit monitoring service at $14.95/month. You wouldn't realize this until a month later when you saw a strange charge on your credit card bill. The web site prompts you to enter your credit card number as a requirement to redeem your "free" report and assures you that "credit card will not be charged during the free trial period." False.

So where do you go to get a free credit report? The ONLY place where you can get a free credit report is By law, everyone is entitled to a free report from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, & TransUnion) every 12 months. Now before you rush off to to pull all three reports, consider spacing out your reports and check one every 4 months. That way if there is something unusual on your reports, you're more likely to catch it sooner rather than later. I've set up calendar reminders for us.

Lastly, here's a little Credit Reports 101, for those of you who've never reviewed your credit reports. It's not too late to start!

What's on your report: information about you compiled from data you provide to lenders & others, including
  • Trade lines: past & present credit accounts (& information about if you make timely payments)
  • Credit inquiries: requests for information about you made by potential lenders
  • Public record & collection items: information gathered from government & collection agencies (e.g. purchase contracts, collection items, bankruptcy)
What you should look for:
  • Do you recognize all of the accounts listed?
  • Is your address history & other information accurate?
 If you find an error: 
  • Report the error to the credit agency.
  • The agency must investigate & respond to you within 30 days.
  • If you are in the midst of a loan application, notify potential lender(s) of the incorrect information.
  • Go check out your other 2 reports to make sure the other agencies don't have incorrect information.
Sidenote: I have today off (President's Day, yay!) so I'm sitting on our couch writing this post with the TV on in the background and I just saw an ad for Don't be fooled...also NOT free.


  1. Suz-
    I remember I was on the phone once with my bank and they said something about everytime you run your credit score, it actually does something TO your credit score...did I misunderstand her/is she actually only recording the number of times I am running my score every 12 months?

  2. Jenny, First a clarification: the 12 month rule applies to how often you check your credit reports not your credit score. To get your score (generally FICO), you'll probably have to pay.

    Also, generally speaking, if you have multiple credit inquiries ... this can affect your score. Essentially an inquiry indicates that you're applying for credit, which can signal higher risk. There are some exceptions (for example, if the inquiries are within a focused period of if you're mortgage shopping) that may not affect your credit as much. FICO explains it better than I can in this little comment section (email me if this doesn't clarify):


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