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Why did I get charged for my ‘free’ credit report?

Consumers can avail of at least one free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus annually

Summary

Some products that offer your credit report at no charge are actually free trials for paid subscription services, such as credit monitoring. Be sure to read the fine print when checking your credit report for free, particularly if you’re asked to enter your credit card information.

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Have you ever signed up for a free credit report, only to find yourself billed for it later?

That is reader Jackie’s experience. She recently visited the Experian website planning on getting a free credit report, and ended up being charged $19.99 for this. Experian hasn’t been very helpful to her in this matter either, she says.

It seems the world of credit reports and credit scores is full of pitfalls for the unwary. Let’s see how this charge may have come about.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Poonkulali a question.

Read the fine print before signing up for a ‘free’ service

Experian offers a variety of credit report packages, each with different price points and offering different services.

An Experian spokesperson surmises that Jackie signed up for an Experian service that offered a free trial period, and would charge $19.99 per month thereafter (you must enter your credit card information to get the free trial).

For instance, Experian’s identity protection service offers a free 30-day trial period, during which time a subscriber can cancel their membership without charge. If you don’t cancel within this free trial period, you are charged $19.99 per month after that.

Or perhaps she accidentally signed up for the Experian “credit report and FICO score” service that lets consumers view their credit report and FICO score, for a one-time fee of $19.99.

There’s also a free product that lets you see your Experian credit score once a month. This product doesn’t require you to provide your credit card information.

So what’s the difference between the free product and the one you pay a monthly fee for? The Experian spokesman explained, “The purpose of a subscription product is to monitor progress, watch for identity theft and understand how purchase events and habits impact one’s credit score and report,” among other things.

See related:  New FICO score focuses on how much money you have in the bank

You can get a free credit report annually

Considering that credit reports loom large in the life of all Americans, affecting prospects for housing and employment, besides the obvious credit availability, it is in everyone’s interest to stay on top of their credit reports.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – to give you a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. You can obtain them at AnnualCreditReport.com.

And you may also be eligible to receive additional free credit reports if anyone denies you credit, or has taken any “adverse action” against you, based on input in your credit report. Other situations that could provide you access to a free credit report include:

  • You have reason to believe you are the victim of fraud that affected your credit file.
  • The placing of an initial fraud alert.
  • You are unemployed and intend to look for employment within 60 days of requesting a credit report.
  • You are on welfare.
  • Your state allows for a free credit report (this is in addition to the one you get under federal law).

Even though the credit reporting bureaus have a legal mandate to provide a free credit report, you might find  it is not always smooth sailing, as various consumer complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau document.

See related:  Fair Credit Reporting Act: A guide to your rights

Equifax’s chastening   

Besides all the available free reports you already have access to, Equifax’s settlement with the government relating to its 2017 data breach incident provides consumers additional free reports. As part of that settlement, that credit reporting bureau will provide all U.S consumers access to six free credit reports annually for seven years, starting in January 2020.

All this access to free credit reports means you don’t have any excuse for not staying on top of your credit score. Just be careful that the report you are ordering is indeed a free product, so that you won’t end up paying for it as Jackie did.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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