Warning--this is a trick question. If you want a free copy of your credit report, should you go to www.annualcreditreport.com or www.freecreditreport.com? While the answer would seem “obvious,” it turns out it’s not.
For the quick answer, www.annualcreditreport.com is the government mandated site where you can get your free credit report each year from the three major credit reporting bureaus, no strings attached. In contrast, www.freecreditreport.com is a privately owned by Experian that "kinda" gives you your free credit report. Let's take a quick look at each service.
All consumers are entitled to free credit reports every year from each of the three major credit bureaus. In the past, the charge for receiving your credit report was about $10. As a result of the FACT Act (Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003), the three major credit-reporting agencies are now required to provide consumers, upon request, with a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months.
The annualcreditreport.com website was created by the three credit reporting agencies to comply with the FACT Act by giving consumers a way to obtain their free credit reports. There are three ways you can request a free credit report:
- Go to AnnualCreditReport.com which is the only authorized source for consumers to access their annual credit report online for free.
- Call (877) 322-8228
- Complete the form on the back of the Annual Credit Report Request brochure, and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The brochure, which can be ordered or printed, is available from the Federal Trade Commission.
If you choose to use the online option, be sure to only use AnnualCreditReport.com if you want your credit report free of charge. This site is government-mandated and is the only website you can go through to get a truly free report.
According to an investigation conducted by World Privacy Forum, there are more than 100 websites offering free credit reports. What many consumers don't realize at first is that these sites, like freecreditreport.com, offer the free report in exchange for signing consumers up for a credit monitoring service. The service is typically free for the first seven days, but after that consumers are charged a monthly fee.
Some of these websites that are offering “free” credit reports are operated by one of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) and this is causing people to automatically assume the report is free. Freecreditreport.com, for example, is owned and operated by ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., an Experian company.
When you order your report through www.freecreditreport.com, you must sign up for a trial membership in the site’s “Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring” program. If you don’t cancel your membership within a 7-day trial period, you’re billed $14.95 a month. The Better Business Bureau has received nearly 10,000 complaints about the site in the last 36 months, with some complainants saying that they kept being billed even after canceling membership.
To its credit, Experian does disclose on the front page of its site that consumers who use its service will be enrolled in the Triple Advantage program. Here is the disclosure:
When you order your free report here, you will begin your free trial membership in Triple AdvantageSM Credit Monitoring. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period**, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership. ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. and Freecreditreport.com are not affiliated with the annual free credit report program. Under a new Federal law, you have the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. To request your free annual report under that law, you must go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
There are at least two reasons why a consumer would choose freecreditreports.com over annualcreditreports.com:
- Credit monitoring services: If a consumer wants the credit monitoring service along with his or her credit report, freecreditreports.com is certainly a reasonable choice. These services are not available through annualcreditreport.com
- Experian credit score: Consumers will receive their Experian credit score with their credit report from freecreditreports.com. Credit scores are not available through annualcreditreports.com.
If you do use www.freecreditreports.com to obtain your credit report and Experian credit score, keep a few things in mind:
- How to cancel: The only way to cancel the Triple Advantage credit monitoring service, at least that's disclosed on freecreditreport.com, is to call 1-877-481-6826. That number is buried in the terms & conditions that govern the service.
- How to get a discount: If you want to keep the credit monitoring service, call the cancellation number above and ask for a discount. While the published cost is $14.95 a month, freecreditreport.com has been willing in the past to lower this to about $9 or $10 to keep consumers signed up.
Finally, if you really want your free credit score check out our article on How to Instantly Get Your Free Credit Score Online, which gives you some resources to get your credit score without requiring a free trial or your credit card number.
And finally, I'll leave you with a collection of Free Credit Reports' entertaining commercials: