F-R-E-E that spells “not free”

I’m sure you’re all familiar with that catchy little jingle. The one that goes, F-R-E-E that spells FREE, credit report dot com baby. I love the song (it’s catchy), but I hate the message. Personally I think freecreditreport.com deserves a swift backhand to the jugular. It infuriates me that the company markets itself as a free credit report service, when in fact it is a we-hope-you-don’t-realize-you-are-signing-up-for-a-monthly-subscription-service.

Yes, your initial report is free, but they charge the bajeezes out of ya 30 days later if you don’t cancel the contract you probably didn’t know you signed. Unfortunately, freecreditreport.coms  catchy tune has polluted the minds of millions of Americans and have become the industry standard.

Don’t worry though, there is a way to check your credit report, three times a year, for free. As in it ain’t gonna cost you a thing free. Annualcreditreport.com is THE ONLY legitimately free, no strings attached, way to check your credit report. No fishy business going on here (it’s endorsed by the federal government). All you do is punch in a little information and within a few minutes you have full access to your credit report. No contracts, no subscriptions, no sketchiness. Booya grandma!

So now that you know how to check your credit report, it’s important you understand WHY you should check it. I do so for one reason and one reason only; To make sure everything is a-okay. I can look back through all the credit accounts I’ve had, over the last seven years, and double check that everything was reported to the credit agencies properly. I checked yesterday and let me tell you, it felt great seeing Sallie Mae showing “Paid in full.”

Not only can you check on the accuracy of any information on your report (and dispute any inaccurate information), but it also serves as the best tool to help spot identity theft. All it takes to open an account is just a little bit of personal information. What if someone has opened an account in your name without you knowing? If everything looks familiar on your credit report, than you’re probably in the clear. If there are some random credit card accounts, held with companies you’ve never heard of, there’s a good chance you’re the newest victim of identity theft.

Keeping up with your credit report (even if you have no debt at all) is just as important as maintaining a budget. It’s one piece of the whole personal finance puzzle. A very important piece mind you. If you haven’t checked your credit report in the last six months, go do it now at annualcreditreport.com (and if you’re wondering if I was compensated for this post or sponsored by them in any capacity, I wasn’t. Although, if they offered me compensation I would gladly take it :))

When’s the last time you checked your credit? Have you ever been fooled by a freecreditreport type company? Ever been the victim of identify theft? Was it as big of a headache as I imagine it would be?

25 thoughts on “F-R-E-E that spells “not free”

  1. Great post, I use that website 3 times a year. This is because there are 3 credit score companies and you can pull a credit report from once a year. I like to time it every 4th month so I can get a current picture of my credit throughout the year. I was never fooled by free credit report companies but I have been tempted many times to buy my FICO score out of curiosity.

    I have to say I’m pretty paranoid about identity theft. Social networking, hackable smart phones, unsecured doctor offices, and the plain old mailbox make it so easy for those to steal someones identity.

  2. We check ours every four months like clockwork. The last update we got was from Experian, I believe. We don’t buy any of the add-ons like our score or anything like that. The free check from Annual Credit Report is sufficient.

  3. I’m tempted to buy my score because I’m curious if our score will go down once we pay off our mortgage. I think some ratio goes out of whack when you do that, but honestly I don’t care too much. I use my credit card plenty so that should make up for it.

    I believe those guys did get busted and had to modify their commercial somewhat because it was misleading advertising.

    • You can use CreditKarma.com to get your Transunion score free as often as you’d like. It’s a truly free service. They will advertise to you (like Mint.com) but you don’t have to buy anything. I just found it a few weeks ago and it’s great!

  4. Checking my credit score a few times a year is a habit I should really get into. I’ve been leery of the “free”… very little these days are considered to be “free”.

    Hubby had a co-worker who was the victim of identity theft; what an unbelievable hassle that poor guy had to go through! It’s probably one of the reasons why way pay cash for the vast majority of our purchases.

  5. I check my credit every quarter, love the real free service.

    I got scammed by a “free” service a few months ago and I continue to feel stupid for it. Just like the “free” credit reports, I requested a Free* sample of shampoo & conditioner. I made the naive assumption that the asterisk was for shipping & handling, no big deal. A month later I get a box with an 8 oz bottle of shampoo, 8 ozs of conditioner and a bill for $89.99. The asterisk was really telling me I was signing up for a monthly hair care subscriptions service.
    I followed all the procedures (they were extensive) for returning the product and canceling the subscription. Fortunately I got a refund and haven’t been charged sense. Lesson learned – always read the fine print.

  6. I’m just curious how easy it really is for someone to steal your identity. I assume it’s the same south of the border (I’m a Canuck), but in the land of snow and igloos someone would need your social security number to be able to do any real damage. So long as you don’t publish that number or carry it around with you, all should be well. I suppose you should also keep up on your internet security so that you don’t have trojens and keyloggers on your computer as well. At least that’s my take on it. Does anyone here know if that is the case or is a lot easier than what I imagine?

    PS. if anyone is looking to make a quick buck I have a few Nigerians I can introduce you to!

    • Hey Someone! Fellow Canuck here! The post I made was Hubby’s co-worker who had his debit card “double-swipped” at a Petro-Can Gas Station… got into his account, got all his loonies, and they even managed to get their hands on some personal info (not sure exactly how they managed it, but I’m sure my Hubby’s co-worker wasn’t the first victim, but hopefully the last). I admit I don’t know all the ins and outs of the saga, but it’s scary to know it can be done.

      “Land of snow and igloos”… LOL!! And we all own Huskys and drink Export beer!

    • Generally identity theft can be avoided by good security measures as you say. You have add garbage to your list. “Dumpster diving” is a very productive activity for identity thieves. People toss all kinds of things with identifying information on them. Don’t put anything like that in the trash. Invest in a cross-cut shredder and shred it first.

      There are also instances where identity thieves use their positions at businesses that collect such personal information to steal the needed data. One instance I know of involved the son of an insurance agent who copied the information off of a policy on his mother’s desk when she left the room.

    • Um. I don’t think so. I’m Canadian and I had my info stolen and my credit card maxed – I don’t know when or how – on the other side of the country while the card was in my wallet, this was now almost 4 years ago and I still check my credit report about every 5 months to check if there’s any further ‘damage’. I was able to contact my credit card company and bank and got all my money bank, I filed the reports and yada yada. I also contacted the credit agencies and now have a ‘fraud victim’ warning on my credit report. Anything can happen and people will and CAN steal your info and use it even if they don’t have your SIN. There are actually very few things that you actually need your SIN for and your identity can be copied without it. I shred and burn anything with even my name on it, I use paypal to buy online, I check my credit and don’t give my numbers to anyone, I’ve NEVER lost a credit card and these are lifelong habits. Yet this still happened to me. It can happen to anyone.

  7. I check mine three times a year as well (like Stacking Cash above). In fact, I just ran my Equifax YESTERDAY and everything was good. I did find one account that they had marked as open that was not, so I let them know this and moved about my life. I did remind my blog readers to check as well. I guess great minds were thinking alike yesterday, were they now? =)

  8. Another vote for Credit Karma, truly free and you get your TransUnion credit report for free. Even though Annual Credit Report is suppose to only let you see them once a year, Experian mailed me an access code that lets me check theirs anytime I want.

  9. I am of the check your credit a few times a year camp – because that’s what my parents taught me. Unfortunately, my husband subscribed to some service through his credit card before we were married that allows him to check his credit whenever he wants to. The service is around $18/month, which I think is ridiculous. He says he likes to know whenever someone checks his credit or whenever something happens with it (they send him emails if someone checks his credit I think), but I still think this is overkill. Opinions?

  10. I generally feel that checking your credit report once a year is enough.

    Though I’ve not been a victim of identity theft myself, I have helped a few people who have. The biggest pain in the butt about dealing with it is that it’s hard to know when you’re finished dealing with the fallout. In one case all of the bogus accounts that showed up on the credit report were addressed and then a few months later a new one pops up via a collection letter! It’s a very frustrating thing to have to deal with.

  11. Thanks for reminding me to check my credit! I usually only do it once per year around tax time, just because I am usually too busy to remember any other time. At least that was the way it was the last two years.

    I had a monthly service for awhile where I could check my credit every month, but I didn’t like paying for it. It was only $9 per month at the time, but shot up quickly. I like the convenience in checking my credit every month and getting alerts, but I don’t like the monthly fees especially now that I am paying off my debt.

    I have learned from experience, DO NOT FORGET TO CHECK YOUR CREDIT at least once a year. I skipped a year and got a charge off on my account over the matter of $100. All because a hospital had my wrong address and I never got a bill!!

  12. I checked last fall when I started my house hunt. Pretty interesting to see a credit report for the first time. Made a couple of phone calls and changed some of my informational stuff (minor error). Probably keep doing this once or twice a year for the rest of my working life.

  13. I think it’s amusing that the sites you’re basically telling people not to go to are showing up in the ad-bar above the post.

    But that’s just me.

  14. I’m embarrassed to confess that I was fooled by the “free credit report” site one time as well and I should know better! My son that has Down Syndrome had his identity stolen. His social worker called me and told me what had happened, she said a W2 had been turned in with his SSN and she just wanted to double check that we hadn’t put him to work as a maid… I understand in Arizona it’s a hot business selling SSNs to those who need one…

  15. I too check the annual credit report site. I have done so for the past three years and each time have had some little screw up that prevents them from showing me the report online. Then I have to send copies of social security cards, drivers licenses and bills showing current address. Their reply usually takes weeks and doesn’t explain much. It has generally been a pain!

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