One of the first things I wanted to do when I started down the path of repairing my credit score was to find out what my credit report is at each of the three major credit bureaus. Knowledge is power, right? I knew that a law had passed several years ago in the U.S. requiring the credit bureaus to give each consumer one free copy of their credit report a year.
One day while the television was on I saw an ad play for “freecreditreport.com.” Sounds like the free credit report mandated by law, but I knew that the credit reporting industry had been pretty unhappy about the law. Who would pay to advertise for a free report?
It turns out that the “freecreditreport.com” site (I’m deliberately not linking to it) is run by Experian, one of the the three credit bureaus, and it is NOT the site mandated by law to give you a free report. Instead, this site gives you one free report and has you sign up with it in the process. Unless you remember to cancel, your “free” report is followed by an automatic, for-pay subscription to a credit access service. Here’s the fine print (actually, the light-blue type on a dark-blue background) from their site:
The “freecreditreport.com” site didn’t used to say that — apparently the Federal Trade Commission sued Experian and made them put this statement onto the home page as part of a settlement agreement. Even with it, though, they say that over 20 million Americans have signed up at their site. If you forget to cancel your membership, you’ll pay $142.45 for your first year of “free” credit reports. Ugh! Great deal for Experian, though — if one in ten of the people who’ve signed up were to stay on for that year, Experian would make almost $300 million from a site with “free” in its address.
By advertising this site so aggressively, they also overshadow the actual, truly-free site mandated by law:
I would strongly suggest that you stay completely away from “freecreditreport.com” and instead use the www.annualcreditreport.com site to get access to your credit information. If you want more advanced monitoring services, there are several options — including an excellent one from Experian — which I’ll review in future posts. But don’t be fooled into thinking that something is free when it isn’t.
Some other helpful links on this topic:
- The FTC’s Information on free credit reports
- The FTC’s FAQ on the same topic
- Information about the lawsuit settlement
By the way, I’d like to compliment Google for the way they rank search results for the search “free credit report” — the first three results shown are the www.annualcreditreport.com site and two links to FTC sites with information on the two sites and what the differences are. The “freecreditreport.com” site ranks fourth in the results, which is great. Yahoo and MSN get close, ranking annualcreditreport.com first, but an Experian site second in both cases. This is an area where misleading search results can really harm consumers, and it’s great to see all three search engines — Google especially — make an effort to steer people in the right direction. (I’m not sure what went into the ordering of those results, but I’m happy with how it turned out.)
See the rest of our posts on Credit Repair.