Free Credit Reports: What You Need To Know

The CARD Act, the new law regulating credit card companies also sets forth  a new regulation  regarding companies that use free credit reports to entice people to enroll in paid services such as ordering credit scores, credit score monitoring, and identity theft protection services.

Basically, the new rule is this: anyone who provides free credit reports must let people know that they can obtain their government mandated annual credit report (three reports in total, one from each Credit Bureau) from AnnualCreditReport.com. This website has been established as the centralized location to allow people to obtain their credit reports for free.

Most companies that promoted free credit reports in the past, such as the notorious FreeCreditReport.com,  which is owned by Experian, are no longer offering free credit reports. FreeCreditReport.com, and others like it have been called a scam by some, since the credit reports aren’t really free. In order to obtain your “free credit report” you’d have to enroll in a service that charges a monthly fee to monitor your credit score. These were often trial offers, where if you didn’t cancel in  a certain period of time, you would start getting charged.

To cope with the new regulation, FreeCreditReport.com now charges $1 to access your Experian credit report. The trial offer still remains: seven days free enrollment in Triple Advantage, its credit score monitoring service. If not cancelled in seven days, the first monthly fee of $14.95 is assessed and will continue to be assessed monthly until cancelled.  FreeCreditReport.com claims the $1 for the credit report is being donated to charity.

While Federal regulations guarantee that you can obtain your credit report for free, there are no similar regulations for credit scores, derived from the information on your credit report. It is your credit score that determines whether or not you get credit and if you do, how much you pay. The credit score that is most widely used by lenders, the FICO score, a product of Fair Issac & Company, is only available through myFICO.com.  Credit scores obtained from anywhere else, whether free or not, are not FICO scores. What type of score it is depends on where it is obtained. If it comes from Experian, it is a  BEACON score, if it comes from Equifax it is a PLUS score, and if it is from TransUnion, it is an EMPIRICA score.

At the end of the day, the only score you need to be concerned about improving is your FICO score. The other scores closely follow it, and any improvements there will be reflected in the others as well.

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