What's the deal with these free credit reports?

Who are all these people offering to give me my credit report FREE! and INSTANTLY! and why? I haven’t figured out the catch but obviously I’m pretty weary.

It seems like these ads are proliferating T.V. and the net as if credit reports were going out of style.

I’m a California resident and I’m told that CA residents at least are entitled to a legitimate free credit report every year. I tried this service once and it showed me the report, however I didn’t get the numeric score. I don’t remember which service it was. How do you tell the legitimate agencies from potential scams, and again what’s in it for them?

Everybody in the country is entitled to a free credit report from the three major crediting reporting bureaus: Equifax, Transunion, Experian.

Go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com

OK, let me hone my question now. In the FAQ of that website it says the following:

So this agency is the Central Source? The Central Source?!? If I was writing a sci-fi novel and I needed a name for the mysterious, elite circle of puppeteers of the universe I would call them The Central Source. Who the heck is the Central Source, and why do Equifax/TransUnion/Experian disclose their credit files to them? Do they disclose them to anyone else?

There are tons of scams out there and this is proabably one of them. There are legitimate channels to get truly free credit reports but many people don’t know that/get confused. The scammers usually offer some “service” like credit monitoring or reformatting your 3 credit reports into one report. They only get authorized to do that when you sign up for it. Then, you are charged a one-time fee for “value-added” service and/or signed up for one of their subscription services.

Yeah and your “Free” credit reports can be incredibly time consuming to obtain. Experian has been pretty good, but TransUnion makes you offer up your firstborn in order to re-identify you. The so-called Central Source identifies you, then each one of the credit agencies identifies you. TransUnion wanted me to pony over the number on a Sears card I don’t remember getting and that was incredibly old. To top it all off all three of them try to sell you things along the way.

My gist: tread cautiously.

Here’s the government FAQ on free credit reports.

The “central source” is the annualcreditreport.com link that BobT gave, set up so that consumers don’t have to go to three separate firms.

The other source of confusion is that the credit report that this gives you is an entirely different thing than your credit score. The law does not allow you to get a free credit score. You still have to pay for that.

Each of the three credit reporting firms has its own score, calculated differently from one another. They’ll available fairly cheaply (I think $15) each. Because they differ the policy is usually to average the three to see where you stand.

The real standard for credit scores, however, is formally known as the FICO credit score created by Fair, Isaac & Co. The law does not allow you to get a free FICO score either.

To get your Fico score go to the myfico.com web site. It will give you all three scores and their calculated average for $44.85. Which is pretty much the same as you’d pay for getting them individually, but with less bother and a professional averaging.

The website http://www.annualcreditreport.com was established by an act of Congress that required the three credit reporting companies to give out reports for free. While it may be cumbersome, it is a legitimate site.

The free credit reports don’t include the numerical score, since that is a proprietary product from the Fair Issac company. They charge credit companies for using their system to calculate this score, and don’t give it away for free. The law only requires that people can get a free copy of their credit report, the list of creditors, payment history, etc.

There are a lot of scams offering ‘free’ credit reports. The report is indeed free, in fact it’s the same one you could on your own get via annualcreditreport.com.
Some of "the catches’ are:

  • they charge you an inflated fee for ‘processing’ or ‘service’ or something.
  • somewhere in the fine print, you are also agreeing to buy something from them. Usually some kind of ‘credit protectiion plan’ or ‘credit monitering’ service. And at an inflated price, of course.
  • they make money by selling your name to various businesses that are interested in people inquiring about their credit.

It’s a lot safer & cheaper to just go get them yourself.

I applied for mine online when they first became available. Note applied. I received one on-line - TransUnion. For the next one, I had to mail the form available on line since I moved around a bit, and they could not verify my address. The last one did not give me my credit report since I could not verify my identity - which was in a state of flux (did not have valid license, no birth certificate available, etc.) because of the aforesaid moving around. Can’t really complain, if I could not get them, it seems likely no one else could either. (Though I doubt anyone wants to steal my identity, but they are welcome to it. Probably raise my credit score. :smiley: )

But be very careful of all the fine print even on the legitimate site. I remember one or more of the applications directed you to the actual credit agency’s website for the final steps, which would offer you their credit protection plans, credit score and such.

The old fashioned way may even work better in some cases. The credit bearues will mail you a copy of your credit report if you just call them. The phone systems are pretty sophisicated voice-recognition ones that verify your identity and just mail them to you within two weeks. I have done it many times although not rencently.

Hard copies are pretty handy for records.

Call Equifax at 1-(800) 685-1111 to order a credit report by phone. To place a fraud alert on your credit report with Equifax, call 1(888) 766-0008.

Website address is www.Equifax.com.

Call Transunion at 1 (800) 888-4213 to only order free credit reports.

Website address is www.Transunion.com

Call 1 (888) EXPERIAN to order credit reports or place a fraud alert on your credit report.

I got my credit report from annualcreditreport.com as soon as I was able.

There was little hassle. One (I forget which) would only mail me the report, but the other two let me do it online, and gave me free access for a month. You can also calculate your credit score for $9.95 or so.

Everyone should get at least one of the free reports just to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. You don’t have to get the credit score, and the nature of your report will be a good indicator how it would be (i.e., if all the entries indicate you’ve paid your bills on time, you’re set).

Other scammer2 have gotten in on this by selling services or even charging you to get the URL. Beware of them and make sure you’re gong to the official site.

Central Source (Central Source, LLC) is an entity owned and operated by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) mandated the creation of the Central Source. The FTC is the watchdog and worked with the three reporting agencies to set it up (such as scaling the size and robustness of the IVR and website).

No matter where in the US you live, you are entitled to one free report every twelve months from the Central Source (you can get three all together, since there are three agencies with reports at the Central Source).

If you live in NJ, for example, you get to go to the Central Source once every twelve months AND you get to go directly to each agency every year as state law grants you one free per year.

The Central Source is born from Federal regulations, but you have applicable state laws that grant you other rights (E.G. Georgia residents get rights to two per year directly from the agencies PLUS one every twelve months from the Central Source)

Some other firms (merely ‘resellers’ of credit reports) offer free credit reports to suck you into some subscription service (like fraud monitoring) which has a monthly fee.

Everyone should verify if the information contained within their credit report is accurate, regardless of their scores. I generally pull the reports once a year for myself and my wife. If you want to check it more often, Experian allows you to view your report if you file an Initial Security Alert (which remains on your report for 90 days). I like to put one on my credit report once in awhile, when I’m not expecting to apply for credit. Check it out here: