San Diego, CA. - TA new report from Consumer
WebWatch.org examined Web sites that offer consumers
paid access to their credit reports in combination with
credit scores, credit monitoring, and/or identity theft
insurance, while many consumers think they are on the
government's free annual credit report site (www.annualcreditreport.com).
These sites (some bogus ones included) are alternatives
to annualcreditreport.com, created as a result of the
Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003(FACTA),
which entitles consumers to obtain, once a year, a free
copy of their credit reports from each of the three
major credit reporting bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and
The report was authored by Robert N. Mayer, and Ph.D.
Tyler Barrick of the University of Utah for Consumer
Reports WebWatch 101 Truman Avenue Yonkers, NY 107031057
For the complete report:
The purpose of this report was to examine the operation
of Web sites - other than the government sanctioned
annualcreditreport.com - that offer consumers "free"
access to their credit reports. As a result of the Fair
and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003 (FACTA), all
consumers now have the right to request and obtain, once
a year, a copy of their credit reports from each of the
three major credit reporting bureaus - Equifax,
Experian, and Transunion. Prior to FACTA, consumers had
the right to obtain a free copy of their credit report
only under a limited set of conditions: (1) they were
denied credit, at least in part, based on the
information contained in a credit report; (2) they were
unemployed and would apply for unemployment within 60
days; (3) they received public assistance; (4) they had
been a victim of identity theft and placed a fraud alert
on their file; or (5) believed their file contained
inaccurate information due to fraudulent activity
(Consumers Union, undated).
Across 24 sites studied, there was a total of 58 offers.
The majority of sites (16 out of 24) contained three
offers, at least one of which involved a free credit
report. Two sites bore two offers; six sites only one.
(Three sites contained more than three credit related
offers, but we coded only the first three offers on a
given Web site.)
The offers on the twenty four sites vary in detail, but
the majority (51) fell into one of three broad
A. Buy three credit reports and get one credit score for
free, sometimes with the option of buying additional
credit scores (8 offers)
B. Buy credit reports and scores, with nothing offered
for free (10 offers)
C. Receive one or more free credit reports and/or one or
more free credit scores when enrolling in acredit
monitoring service, often with a free trial period (33
Recommendations to Consumers
Some sites offer consumers a better financial deal than
others do. There are a variety of "best buys,"or
combination of buys:
1. For the consumer who wants to obtain the most for
free and is able to cancel before the end of a seven day
trial period before charges are incurred, the best deal
was found at spendonlife.com (a member of the
privacymatters.com branch of the Transunion family).
This was the only Web site that claimed to give the
consumer all three credit reports and all three credit
scores during a free trial period. However, there were
some possible drawbacks. In addition to the short trial
period, consumers were assessed an immediate but
refundable $1 processing fee. For the duration of the
credit monitoring service, the consumer also had no
choice about being charged an additional $1 per month
for membership in SavingSmart, a program of shopping
2. Another strategy is to sign up for a thirty day free
trial of both experian.com and transunion.com credit
monitoring services, then cancel before the end of
thirty days. This will yield one free report and score
from each of these two credit reporting companies.
Equifax does not offer a similar free trial period for
its credit monitoring service, but a consumer can obtain
a free copy of his or her Equifax credit report via
annualcreditreport.com and purchase an Equifax score for
$7.95. By combining these three actions, a consumer can
obtain all three credit scores and all three credit
reports for $7.95, with the additional advantage of
being able to stagger access to the services over
several months. But consumers must remember to cancel
services before the end of free trial periods.
3. Consumers willing to pay for the convenience of
getting three credit reports in conjunction with three
credit scores from a single site at a single time could
shop nationalcreditreport.com. For $23.95, the site
provided three reports, three scores, and a first month
of credit monitoring. The service can be cancelled after
one month. There is no free trial and the $23.95 monthly
charge is recurring until cancellation.
4. If credit monitoring beyond one month is important to
a consumer, several sites offer a free trial followed by
a $9.95 monthly charge for one credit report, one credit
score, and monitoring via one of the three credit
bureaus. Similar services covering all three bureaus can
be purchased for as little as $19.95 (and as much as
$39.95) per month.
5. Consumers Union recommends that consumers unbundle
the purchase of scores, reports, and credit monitoring,
at least initially. Start exercising your right under
the FACT Act to obtain free copies of credit reports
from each of the three credit agencies using
annualcreditreport.com. For consumers also curious about
their credit scores, one or more can be purchased at low
cost when consumers access annualcreditreport.com. At
the time of this study, prices for these scores were:
$5.95 for Experian, and $7.95 for Equifax and Transunion.
The total for all three is $21.85. Contrast this amount
with the $47.85 one would pay for three scores and three
reports from myfico.com or the $39.95 charged by several
other sites. Plus, using the strategy of optimizing the
value of using annualcreditreport.com, the consumer can
stagger access to reports across several months. After a
consumer has reviewed the contents of all three credit
reports and perhaps examined all three credit scores, he
or she should then decide whether credit monitoring is
likely to be of value (for example, as a means of
detecting identity theft) and whether it is important to
have unlimited access to one or all three credit reports
and scores. Security freezes on credit reports, provided
by law in a majority of states, may be a less expensive
and more effective alternative to credit monitoring
services as a means of preventing identity theft. To see
which states have the security freeze, see:
the complete report:
About the ICFE:
The Institute of Consumer Financial Education (ICFE) was founded in 1982 by the late Loren Dunton (creator of the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation). The ICFE is dedicated to helping consumers of all ages to improve their spending, increase savings and use credit more wisely.
The ICFE is an award winning, nonprofit, consumer education organization that has helped millions of people through its education programs and Resources. It publishes the Do-It-Yourself Credit File correction Guide, which is updated annually. The ICFE has distributed over one million Credit/Debit Card Warning Labels and Credit/Debit Card Sleeves world wide.
The ICFE became an official partner with the Department of Defense/Financial Readiness Campaign in June of 2004.The ICFE was an active partner in the California Student Debt Resource Awareness Project (CASDRAP) which resulted in a new web site: (studentdebthelp.org). CASDRAP disbanded in 2010, shortly after the web site project was completed. In 2011 the ICFE assumed the single sponsorship of the (studentdebthelp.org) web site and is now responsible for its content and operation.
The ICFE is also an on-line help for consumers who spend too much. ICFE's spending help was featured in PARADE Magazine in the Intelligence Report section. The money helps and tips are from the ICFE's Money Instruction Book, our course in personal finance.
Visit the ICFE's other web sites at: www.financial-education-icfe.org and studentdebthelp.org. Both sites helps consumers and students with mending spending, learning about the proper use of credit, budget and expense guidelines, how to set up and implement a spending-plan and also how to access financial education courses and how to teach children about money. Other ICFE services include: Ask Mr. G, a free eNews, and an online resource center for students, parents and educators, plus financial education learning tools and a book store.