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Credit bureaus duck free credit report rules

By Leslie McFadden · Bankrate.com
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Posted: 3 pm ET

On April 2, new rules from the Federal Trade Commission took effect that required commercial Web sites that offer a free credit report to disclose where consumers can get their free credit report under federal law. The disclosure is meant to direct people looking for their free federally-mandated credit report to AnnualCreditReport.com, the official source for free credit reports.

Since then, Web sites operated by the three major credit reporting agencies have managed to avoid the required disclosure -- by promoting a free credit score instead, or charging a nominal fee. An article in the New York Times from yesterday points out that Experian-owned FreeCreditReport.com, which is advertised in those singing pirate commercials, has begun charging $1 for a credit report and free score. The dollar goes to charity. After a trial period, the consumer gets billed $14.95 every month for credit monitoring.

Companies may be getting around the law by no longer advertising a free credit report specifically. The marketing of "free credit scores" isn't addressed in the FTC rules.

FreeCreditScore.com, the sister site of FreeCreditReport.com, doesn't mention the federal restrictions, but includes a disclaimer at the top of the homepage that the consumer will be charged for credit monitoring every month after a seven-day trial period.

Equifax advertises a free credit score with its credit monitoring product on its homepage, as does TransUnion. No FTC-required disclosures to be found.

Be forewarned. The credit reporting agencies aren't really giving away free scores. The score is only free if you cancel during the trial period. The clue: If the Web site asks for your credit card info, the product or service probably isn't free.

Federal law gives consumers the right to obtain a free credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. The law doesn't require the credit-reporting agencies to provide a free credit score. Some Web sites, such as Credit Karma and Quizzle.com, do provide free scores. Bankrate.com offers a free FICO score estimator.

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