If you've turned on your TV anytime in the last 5 years, you've probably heard the freecreditreport.com 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 freecreditreport.com 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 annualcreditreport.com. 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 annualcreditreport.com 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)
- Do you recognize all of the accounts listed?
- Is your address history & other information accurate?
- 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.