The word free can be defined as "without cost or payment, without charge, free of charge, for nothing." However, many of the "free" credit scores and "free" credit reports offered to consumers are not exactly what the average person has in mind when she hears the word free. It is difficult to get something for nothing and often there is a catch of some sort involved whenever a free credit product is being offered.
Before you become too cynical, the truth is that there really are quite a few places where consumers actually can claim truly free credit reports and scores. Check out this comprehensive list of websites where you can currently access your credit reports and/or credit scores online without the necessity of handing over your credit card information to anyone.
Equifax Credit Report and/or Summary
Equifax Credit Scores
Mint.com (Equifax Risk Score)
TransUnion Credit Report, and/or Summary
CreditKarma.com (Can Update Weekly)
WisePiggy.com (Credit Report Summary)
TransUnion Credit Scores
CreditKarma.com (TransRisk Score)
|Experian Credit Report and/or Summary||Annualcreditreport.com
CreditSesame.com (Credit Report Summary and Credit Monitoring)
Credit.com (Credit Report Summary)
|Experian Credit Scores||CreditSesame.com (Experian National Risk Score)
All of the websites listed above will give consumers free access to their credit report and/or scores without the consumer having to pay a dime. Credit scores and reports wield an enormous amount of control over the life of every US consumer, whether the consumer wishes to acknowledge that fact or not. It is always in a consumer's best interest to keep a close eye on her credit which is why increasing free access to credit reports and scores is always positive for consumers.
It is important to understand that, aside from Annualcreditreport.com which is the website that the 3 major credit reporting agencies use to provide free annual credit reports to consumers in compliance with the 2003 FACTA amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, all of the websites listed above are for-profit businesses. They are not charities who are giving away free credit products to consumers out of a sense of altruism. Instead, these companies primarily make a profit by advertising financial services to their users. Whenever someone signs up for one of these advertised products the company will generally receive a commission. Still, being marketed to for products which could likely benefit the consumer financially anyway is arguably a pretty small price to pay for free access to credit reports and scores.
Perhaps the biggest downside to a consumer solely relying upon free credit products to monitor her credit reports and scores is the time which is involved in doing so. As you can see from the table above, there is no single website which offers a consumer free access to all 3 of her credit reports and all 3 of her credit scores. Therefore, in order to monitor all of her credit reports and scores thoroughly a consumer would need to take advantage of multiple offers from multiple websites - a very time consuming undertaking.
For consumers who want an easier, faster way to thoroughly monitor all of their credit reports and scores in one place it may be worth considering a fee-based credit monitoring service. There are several credit monitoring services which offer 3-bureau, 3-score access for a monthly fee. Depending upon the service, these fees generally range from $16.99 per month - $29.99 per month. Also, consumers should be aware that there are quite a few fee-based credit monitoring services that still only provide the capability of monitoring a single credit report and single credit score - something which a consumer can easily do for free at any of the free credit websites above. CLICK HERE for a list of several credit monitoring services currently available to compare fees and services before choosing the best fit for you.
The Moral of the Story
Mistakes on credit reports happen more often than most consumers realize. In fact, the FTC released a study in 2013 which proposes that as many as 1 in 5 consumers have errors on their credit reports. However you choose to do it, the fact of the matter is that you should be monitoring your credit reports and scores and you should be doing so frequently.
Michelle Black is an 13+ year credit expert with HOPE4USA, the credit blogger at HOPE4USA.com, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, a contributor to the Wealth Section of Fort Mill Magazine, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars up and down the East Coast. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE Facebook page by clicking here.