When does “free” mean “you have to pay for it”? Answer: In advertisements on TV and the Internet promising you a “free” credit report! Sadly, what you actually end up with is a charge of $40 and/or regular monthly charges to your credit card.

Can you really get a free credit report, and should you?

The answer to both questions is yes. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year. Ensuring that your credit report is accurate is important. But there’s no reason to be scammed. You don’t have to pay a single penny to get your credit report or to correct mistakes on it.

One company boasts that more than 20 million people have already responded to its humorous TV ads about what happens if you don’t check your credit report. Its website is FreeCreditReport.com. But it isn’t free.

Once on the website, you are asked to fill out personal information and give your credit card. Before you hit “Enter,” you must agree to the “terms and conditions.” You’ll find them in a tiny box, where you can only read four lines at a time. Since the terms contain 9,065 words – 20 single-spaced pages! – most people just click “Accept” without reading them. Big mistake!

Clicking “Accept” means you agree to pay $39.95 up front and $14.95 a month for their “free” credit reports and monthly monitoring. If they have really had more than 20 million customers, that’s $800 million in “free” credit reports!

The irony is, this company that is charging people millions is actually getting the credit reports for free. (And by “free” I mean “you don’t have to pay for it.”)

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must furnish you with complete credit reports. The same ones it sells to banks and all businesses that use this information. The law ensures that you have access to:

  • A free credit report each year
  • The name of anyone who has received your credit report
  • A copy of your credit report each time a credit application is denied
  • A 100-word explanation included on your credit report, if you cannot resolve a problem with a vendor

How can you get a genuinely free credit report? It is easier than you might think. But, there is only one website authorized to provide it to you, and it is none of the websites you see on TV or the Internet. The official website is AnnualCreditReport.com.

If what you want is a free credit report, there is no reason to go to any website other than the official website.

There is one word of warning, however, when you go to the official website. The three credit report agencies are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They are not giving you a free report out of the goodness of their hearts. The government requires them to do so. Because they own the website, they are permitted to offer some of their products along with it. So you can expect to be asked if you want to know your “credit score” for a fee. (Just click no.) Expect also, that they will ask you if you want to sign up for credit “monitoring.” (Again, click no.) Decline anything else they offer for a fee. Once you get past these few steps, you will be able to view and print your credit report.

The official website allows you to review one – or all three – credit reports. This presents you with a good opportunity. All three credit reports contain basically the same information, presented slightly differently. If you space out your request to each company, you can review 1 every 4 months. That way, you can actually get 3 free reports a year!

Don’t be fooled by promises of “free” credit reports from companies paying money to advertise on TV or the Internet. There is only one official website where you can get a truly free credit report.

For future reference, though, whenever anyone tries to charge you for “free” information, it’s a scam.

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