Good news for those of you who are tired of seeing ads for free credit reports that aren’t really free. The Credit Card Act of 2009 included changes to the way companies are allowed to advertise free credit reports. As of April 2nd, The Federal Trade Commission requires credit bureaus and credit monitoring services to market credit reports differently than they have been.
In the past, companies advertised “free credit reports” in big bold lettering, with lots of small print at the bottom of the page, usually in hard to read gray lettering. In reality, most people were signing up for a monthly service which usually cost $10-15 per month. Some of these programs were also difficult to unsubscribe from, effectively turning this unwanted service into a monthly tax the customer couldn’t shake. After thousands of complaints, the FTC made some recommendations, which is where we are today.
What the new rules mean for consumers
Consumers who visit these free credit report sites will now be greeted with a large notice at the top of the page informing them they can receive a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. The link is required to be clickable, so that customers can easily visit the site without having to type anything into their web browser. The notice should read as follows, or similar:
“THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED BY LAW. Read more at FTC.GOV. You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law.”
Free credit score provisions. You can receive your free annual credit report one time per year from each of the three credit bureaus from the website annualcreditreport.com. Several months ago I wrote an article about how to get your how to get your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com, including step by step instructions and what to look out for. Even though credit reports are free from this site, you will still receive an upsell because you are taken to the credit bureau’s site where you have the option to buy your credit score or sign up for a credit monitoring service.
Changes coming later to TV/Radio. The new disclosure rules for TV and radio advertising don’t start until September.
Changes at FreeCreditReport.com
FreeCreditReport.com, owned by Experian, was one of the companies singled out by the FTC because their company and domain name were deemed misleading. FreeCreditReport.com now offers credit reports for $1 instead of free, but will donate 100% of the proceeds to DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that provides funds to classrooms in need. You will see they have a large notice at the top of their website notating that the credit reports are no longer offered for free.
FreeCreditReport.com Fine Print at top of page:
When you order your $1 Credit Report and free Experian credit score here, you will begin your 7-day trial membership in Triple Advantage. 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. You may cancel your trial membership anytime within the trial period without charge.
FreecreditReport.com fine print at bottom of page:
** Monitoring with Experian begins within 48 hours of enrollment in your free trial. Monitoring with Equifax and TransUnion takes approximately 4 days to begin, though in some cases cannot be initiated during your trial period. You may cancel your trial membership any time within 9 days of enrollment without charge.
You’ll notice that FreeCreditReport.com is no longer offering “free credit reports” which keeps them in line with the new mandates. Most companies are now no longer using the term “free credit reports” and no longer focusing on “free credit scores.”
What is the difference between credit score and credit report? A credit report is a written history of everything on your credit file; a credit score is a numerical representation of your credit risk based upon the information in your credit report.
Credit scores are still not free
Credit scores will still cost you money. You can get a free FICO credit score if you are willing to sign up for a trial offer for one of many credit monitoring services. Be sure to read the fine print and if you only want the free credit score, then be sure to cancel your enrollment within the free trial period.
What are your thoughts on the new disclosure rules? Good for the consumer, or too heavy handed?