Are Free Credit Score Reports Really Free?
We’ve all heard of the free credit score reports, the catchy jingles, seen the comedic commercials, and been bombarded by ads from companies which offer free credit score reports. Whether it’s FreeCreditReport.com, CreditKarma.com, or NerdWallet.com, there are now hundreds of companies promising consumers free credit score reports. But, is it too good to be true? Are those credit score reports actually free?
Understanding Credit Reports
Every adult should check their credit score once a year through a credit report. This statement — filled with past credit activity, loan history, and payment history — is used to determine your credit score, as well as your eligibility for car loans, mortgage loans, and more. So, your credit score has a massive impact on your life, and it can determine where you live, what you drive, and whether or not you can procure a business or personal loan. But, you don’t just have one credit report; you have three.
The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (or credit bureaus) are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Almost every adult in America has a report with all three of these agencies. To make things a little more complicated, each of them may have a completely different report. When you take out a loan from a creditor, they may only report that information to one or two of the three agencies. This can leave differences between the credit scores that each agency assigns to you.
If you have a good score with one agency and a subpar score with the other, you can attempt to find lenders who utilize a particular agency, improving your chances of being qualified for the loan.
Speaking of your credit score, did you know that there is more than one type of credit score as well?
Most lenders use a FICO score to determine your lending eligibility. But there are plenty of other non-FICO scores that exist to help you monitor and track credit. So, how do you get free credit reports so that you can see your score?
Stay Away from Red Flags
While many websites claim to offer “free” credit scores, you should be wary because some of them are bending the truth. For example, freecreditreport.com charges you $1 for your credit score (which they claim they donate to charity). But they also automatically enroll you in a Credit Tracking service, which charges you $21.99 a month if you don’t cancel in 7 days. Unfortunately, that’s not an uncommon practice among these websites.
The FTC had to crack down on what they called “an online credit scheme” that was being perpetrated by MyCreditHealth and ScoreSense. Both of these companies owned more than 50 total websites — including FreeScore360.com, FreeScoreOnline.com, and ScoreSense.com. And, like freecreditreport.com, they signed users up for a seven-day trial of “credit monitoring” services and charged them at the end of the trial. The FTC returned over $20 million, but both companies and their websites are still running today.
We heavily recommend that you look out for the following “free credit score reports” red flags:
- Websites that offer free credit score reports should NEVER ask for your credit card, debit card, or PayPal information.
- Always look for checkboxes and TOS clauses that are unscrupulous.
- Don’t trust any website that’s run by MyCreditHealth or ScoreSense
While you should be cautious, that’s not to say that all free credit websites are scams.
Legitimate Free Credit Score Report Websites
Luckily, there are many websites that offer free credit score reports. Let’s go over a quick list of a few of your options.
- Credit Sesame
- Credit Karma
This may sound too good to be true, and you may be wary that these companies are selling your information or trying to charge you on the back end. But, these websites typically make money from lenders and advertisers as opposed to consumers. For example, Credit Karma says that it makes money from targeted ads on their website.
But, there’s a little more to it than that. These companies don’t actually give you your FICO score. They give you a non-FICO score. This could be your Vantage Score, FAKO score, or any other unique three-numbered scoring system. These scores can be incredibly useful for tracking and monitoring your credit score, but they aren’t perfect at helping you determine your loan eligibility.
Unfortunately, the majority of lenders still use FICO scores. And, the only way to get your FICO score is through paid services like myFICO.
Best Way to Get Free Credit Reports
So, should you use one of these free credit score websites? Sure! Why not? But that’s not the best way to check your credit report. If you just want to see your report, you should use annualcreditreport.com. Not only is annualcreditreport.com the only website authorized by federal law to provide free credit reports, but it’s jointly run by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
In 2003, FACTA was passed. This required the three credit reporting agencies to offer American consumers a free credit report every 12 months. And, that’s exactly what annualcreditreport.com is for. It’s run by the three credit agencies, and it will give you your reports from all three agencies. But, there’s a catch — you don’t get a score.
So, are all of those free credit report websites really free? Yes and no! Some are free, and others aren’t so free. Make sure to watch out for the red flags. And, if you just want your credit report for the year, try out annualcreditreport.com — it’s the only website that’s actually run by the agencies that create your credit reports.