Home > 2014 > Credit 101

Free Credit Reports: What’s the Catch?

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Consumers are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. AnnualCreditReport.com is the place to go for those reports.

A lot of companies offer free credit reports on a trial basis or as part of a paid product, like credit monitoring. Those reports are just as good as the ones through AnnualCreditReport.com, but when it comes to the truly free report guaranteed to you by federal law, consumers shouldn’t confuse those other sites with AnnualCreditReport.com.

Accessing Your Report

Make sure you’re on the right website when requesting your credit reports. Fraudsters want to steal the personal information you enter on AnnualCreditReport.com, so there are dummy sites out there designed to fool you and capture your sensitive information. Additionally, you can request your report by phone (877-322-8228). Either way, you’ll also need to answer some security questions about your credit history.

Don’t be alarmed if you’re unable to access your reports online — you could be denied digital access if you miss a question or if the verifying algorithm suggests there’s not enough information available to confirm your identity. You’ll receive information for requesting your credit reports by mail. You’ll have to pay postage (and it’s smart to send the form as Certified Mail, which is more secure than regular post), but otherwise, the report is still free.

Know Your Options

Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to access free credit reports more often than just once a year. You’re also entitled to free credit reports if you’ve been denied credit, so you can see why you’ve been rejected. Otherwise, if you want to check your credit reports multiple times a year, you’ll probably have to pay for them.

You also shouldn’t confuse credit reports with credit scores: Scores are based on credit report information, but the score gives you an idea of your credit standing. You can tell if you have good credit by looking at your credit report, but it requires a good understanding of how creditworthiness is determined and how different credit behaviors are weighed by potential lenders.

If you want to know whether you have good credit, it helps to review your credit reports and credit scores together. For example, with a Credit.com account, you get a free snapshot of your credit standing in addition to free credit scores. If that information says you need to improve your payment history or debt use, you can look at your credit report and see which accounts have late payments and which credit cards have high balances, relative to your credit limit. By putting the pieces together, you can make a plan to improve your credit by addressing the problems highlighted by your reports and scores.

When working to improve your credit, it helps to consult a variety of tools. Take note: Credit reports and credit scores change frequently, because your creditors often send updated information to the credit reporting agencies, so focus on the things that determine your credit scores, not on the numbers themselves.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team