Have you already noticed that all the annoying TV ads for FreeCreditReport.com are now for FreeCreditScore.com? That’s because as of April 2, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) now requires companies claiming to offer free credit reports to include obvious disclaimers informing you that the only place to get a truly free credit report is AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228.
Why the Changes?
Under federal law, Americans can request a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. (You’re also entitled to a free report if you’re denied credit; you must request it in writing from the reporting credit bureau).
As you may have noticed, however, credit reports are big business for the credit bureaus. Although, by law, the bureaus must give you report free once a year (if you remember to ask for it), they would much rather sell you a copy for $15 or, even better, charge you $15 a month for credit monitoring.
On the surface, that seems fair. If you want to access your credit report more than once a year, you can pay. Problem is, the bureaus have been advertising “free” credit reports if you enroll in services costing between $15 and $35 a month. The credit report is only free if you cancel the service before the trial expires (in as few as seven days). And, of course, the bureaus often make canceling difficult. It’s sneaky bait-and-switch marketing, but what’s really unfair is the confusion free credit report advertising causes for people who know they can get a free credit report but never realize they’re in the wrong place.
The new FTC regulations make it almost impossible for advertisers to play the free credit report trick again, although the bureaus have simply found a replacement pitch: free credit scores. Based upon your credit report, your credit score is a numeric measure of your creditworthiness. It’s best to check your credit report at least once a year to check for errors or fraudulent activity; it’s smart to check your credit score before applying for credit to know what interest rates you should qualify for.
No Such Thing as a Free Credit Score
Unlike credit reports, however, the law does not provide free access to credit scores. A site called Credit Karma provides a truly free estimate of your credit score (they subsidize their service with ads), but if you want a bone fide credit score, you’ll have to either pay for the score or play the game of getting it free when you enroll in a free trial of monitoring services.
The FTC’s new regulations on credit report advertising are overdue, but Americans need to be on the lookout for the new crop of credit score ads already popping up. A good rule of thumb? Anytime you hear the word “free”, your guard should be up.