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Are Free Credit Reports Actually Free

I’ve posted previously about what goes into a credit report – or more specifically what makes up your FICO Score.  Now, the question is, how can you see actually what the credit reporting agencies are saying about you?  Your credit file is more than just the FICO score. It is a physical list of your debt history, your payment history, if you have left any loans unpaid or made late payments.

If you watch television for just a few hours you will likely see commercials for companies that will offer to provide you with a copy of your current Credit File for FREE.

Are they really providing you something for free?

Here’s the thing –  it’s kind of a paradox.   The three national credit reporting agencies, EQUIFAX, EXPERIAN and TRANSUNION are required to provide consumers with a copy of their credit file once per year.  It’s part of their trade-off for being in the business.

Obviously there is a cost to them to provide this free report to you so while they must provide it when asked, TV advertising is very expensive – so why would they spend “beaucoup d’argent” to solicit people from whom they earn no revenue?

I can’t generalize and say all the ads have a catch but here’s the thing that you have to keep in mind – the companies that are offering your report may or may not be the actual credit reporting agencies.  They may be a third party providing you with the means to get your report – for free – if you sign up for something else that they sell.

Sometimes they may be offering a monthly service to “monitor” your credit report and alert you to any changes or activity.  This may or may not be something you want to purchase.  So make sure if you contact any of these companies that you are clear in what you are signing up for.

If they require you to give them a credit card number in order to get a free report, I would probably be wary – or at least I’d ask questions.

Is there are way to get the reports with no strings?

Yup! There is!

To meet their obligations to provide free reports the three agencies all participate in a website called  ANNUALCREDITREPORT.COM

By going to that link you will see a clear explanation of how it works and what you can get.  You can order – once a year – your credit file from EACH of the three agencies.  You can do them all at once, or stagger them throughout the year.

Now – please be aware, that when you are on this website, you WILL be offered other services.  The key here is that you don’t have to take them in order to get your free report.

The difference in this site and some others is that you do not have  to sign up for anything with a credit card as a tria basis with the promise that you can cancel later.

Repeat – you do not have to sign up for ANYTHING other than your free report.

The process is pretty simple.   When you get to the main site, you’ll be asked to fill out basic information about yourself.  Some of this will include personal information such as your birth date and Social Security number.   The site claims to be secure but if you are uncomfortable entering your data, they will also offer you the option of printing a form, which you can fill out and send it in via snail mail.  You can also order via telephone – whatever you are comfortable with.

You will be asked if you want one report or all three.   Since you can get this once a year, some folks choose to select one report then do another one in a few months, and the last one a few months later.  Then you’re back to the first one a year later.

Based on how many you want, you will then be brought to individual sites for each of the credit agencies.

Here you’ll be asked some identity verification questions.  They will be in the form of multiple choice questions containing data that only might know. The answers are all drawn from your credit report for example:

In approximately 2002 you opened a loan with the following lender

  1. Bank #1
  2. Bank #2
  3. Bank #3
  4. None of the above

They will ask you a few questions such as this.  If you can’t answer them, the system assumes it is no you and they will direct you to order your report via mail or phone.

Once you answer the questions, you’ll be brought to a screen where you can opt to print the report.   You can either print as a PDF file for later use, or just send it to a printer.

The whole thing should take you less than 10 minutes.  Painless, simple and it will cost you nothing.


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