5 On Your Side

When is a 'free' credit report really free?

Posted May 5, 2008 2:18 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2008 6:38 p.m. EDT

Consumers find 13 million errors on their credit reports each year – a good reason to get that copy of your credit report that the government requires the big credit agencies to give you for free annually.

But be wary: Although many companies seem to promise your credit report at no cost, they can end up costing you plenty.

"If you click on FreeCreditReport.com's Web site to order your credit report, you're automatically billed $14.95 a month for a credit-monitoring service after a free trial," Consumer Reports staffer Amanda Walker said. "So essentially, your free credit report costs you about $180 a year."

Stay away from those Web sites with "free" in their name, Walker cautioned.

"It's money you don't have to spend," she said. "You're already entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the major bureaus each year."

AnnualCreditReport.com is the only place to get a truly free credit report. You can also call 877-322-8228.

Each year, you can get a separate, free report from each of the three major credit agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

"It's a good idea to stagger your requests," Walker said. "You can order one of your reports every four months. And that way it gives you an opportunity to check up on your credit throughout the year."

Once you get your credit report, check it for accuracy and possible fraud. Any errors you find need to be fixed.

For information on how to spot and correct credit errors, click here.