“F-R-E-E that spells FREE, credit report dot com, bay-bee!”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that jingle a bazillion times. FreeCreditReport.com — sounds great, right? Just sign up and get a free credit report as well as a free credit score. But is it really free? Or is it some sort of scam? They’ve gotten some bad press in recent years, so I decided to investigate.
While I dig deeper below, here’s the executive summary:
In my humble opinion, FreeCreditReport.com isn’t a scam. They tell you up front exactly what you’re getting into, and they honor their end of the bargain. You’re signing up for a free trial of their credit monitoring service, which comes with free access to your Experian credit report and credit score. If you don’t cancel before the trial expires, they’ll charge you. But if you do call them and cancel, you won’t be charged anything.
What does FreeCreditReport.com provide?
One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive at FreeCreditReport.com is the big, yellow button promising you free access to your credit report and your credit score (pictured below). As just about everyone knows, the free credit report itself isn’t that big of a deal. After all, you can get free access to all three of your credit reports by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
But what about your credit score? Free credit scores are a bit harder to come by, though there are a number of promos out there floating around — e.g., the FreeCreditReport.com offer talked about here, as well as the free trial of myFICO ScoreWatch that I wrote about awhile back.
FreeCreditReport.com — What’s the catch?
As always, it’s important to read the fine print. If you look over to the left side of the FreeCreditReport.com homepage, you’ll see a box labeled “Important Information.” Here’s the scoop:
“When you order your free report here, you will begin your free trial membership in Triple Advantage 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.”
They go on to specify that they are not affiliated with the federally mandated free credit report program (linked above). The footnote indicates that you actually have nine days during which you can cancel your trial membership since it can take up to 48 hours for the credit monitoring to begin.
Signing up for the free trial
I’m as curious as the next guy when it comes to things like this, so I decided to sign up and give it a whirl. The signup process is actually very easy. Simply visit FreeCreditReport.com, click the yellow signup button, and go through their two-step signup process.
Step 1 (below) just asks for your name and address.
Step 2 (below) asks you to create a username and password, provide your personally identifying information (social security number, date of birth, and credit card information. Your card is not charged unless you decide to keep the service beyond the trial period.
After that, they ask two quick security questions derived from information on my credit report, and then you’re in. While they offer to upsell you at various points along the way, you can simply click “No Thanks” and keep going.
Accessing your free credit report and credit score
Once you’ve gained access, you free to view your Experian credit report and credit score. You can either view your report online or download a printable version. They also provide a link to a “Credit Report Guide, ” which explains the types of information contained in each section of your credit report, and they have a link for disputing errors from directly within the site.
So… What did I learn from all of this? Well, for starters, there aren’t really any errors on my credit report. Beyond that, I learned that I have a credit score of 796, which puts me in the 99.5th percentile.
They also give you a breakdown of factors that helped and hurt your credit score. Here’s what they had to say about me…
Factors that increased my credit score:
- You have paid your bills on time and currently do not have any overdue accounts or derogatory information, such as a collection, charge-off, or bankruptcy, on your report.
- You have a good cushion of available credit between your current balance and your credit limits on all open trades. This has a positive affect on your credit score. This cushion shows lenders that you are unlikely to overextend yourself financially.
- The total balance on all your credit cards is relatively low compared to your total available credit limit. This has a positive impact on your credit score.
- Your average credit limit for your major credit cards, such as Discover, American Express, VISA, or MasterCard, is high. This tells lenders that you have enough financial experience, and they will be more likely to see you as a good credit risk.
Factors that decreased my credit score:
- Credit scores are calculated based on various factors in your credit report. Currently, your credit report does not show any significant negative or derogatory information.
How to cancel FreeCreditReport.com
Straight from their FAQs, here’s how to cancel:
If for any reason you are not satisfied, you can cancel anytime to discontinue your membership to Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring and stop the monthly billing. However, you will not be eligible for a prorated refund of any portion of your current month’s paid membership fee. To cancel, please contact Customer Care at 1-888-829-6560.
When I was done poking around, I called them up to cancel. After a brief period on hold, the phone rep pulled up my account, verified my identity, and then tried to convince me to stay for the remainder of my trial period. I simply told him that I had signed up to get the free credit report and credit score, and that I hadn’t seen anything after logging in that convinced me to stick around. He then canceled my account. The entire process took less than three minutes (yes, I timed it).
Just to be on the safe side, I called back and asked to cancel my account. The rep that I got this time around pulled it up just as before, and then said that my account was already showing that it had been canceled a few minutes earlier.
Is FreeCreditReport.com a scam?
So… In answer to the original question… FreeCreditReport.com is not (in my opinion) a scam. Yes, some people may erroneously arrive there looking for the federally mandated free credit reports mentioned above, but they clearly state what they’re all about and they honor the terms of the free trial period.
When she heard that I scored a 796, my wife decided she had to check hers. We’ve always run neck-and-neck since our credit histories are so similar, though she has often had me by a couple of points in the past (primarily due to a slightly longer credit history, I think).
Well… When she checked, she found out that her score was also 796. Exactly the same as mine. Consider me disappointed… I had hoped I would finally pass her by. For the record, she also found that the cancellation process was a snap — just be firm and clear about your desire to cancel.
So what are you waiting for? Go check your score and let us know if you can beat us. Just don’t forget to cancel if you don’t want their recurring service.