Credit-reporting bureaus have a new way to coax us into paying big bucks for a monthly credit-monitoring service by charging only $1 for our credit score. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion have historically marketed their credit-monitoring services as “free,” even though these services actually cost as much as $19.99 a month. The bureaus provided a brief free-trial period—often seven days—before the charges started. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 cracked down on their use of the word “free,” requiring them to more clearly disclose the recurring charges.
Now one of the bureaus—Experian—is sidestepping the crackdown on the word “free” by offering credit scores and an accompanying credit report for $1. People who sign up are charged a monthly fee—for example, $14.95 or $19.95—unless they cancel the service within seven days. That is stated on the Web site, but most people don’t read every word on a Web page and may just focus on the big banner headline “What’s Your Experian Credit Score? Find Out Now for $1.”
Warning: Even the credit bureau’s seven-day grace period before the recurring charges start might not be what it seems. As Experian states on its Web site, “The credit monitoring benefit may only be available for five days during your trial period since enrollment can take up to 48 hours.”
The reality is that you can get three free credit reports (which will give your credit history but not your credit score) each year from AnnualCreditReport.com, a site created by Congress that is run by the three national credit bureaus. You can stagger your three reports so that you get one every four months. And if you suspect that you are a victim of ID theft, you can get one, for free, under a different part of the law (Consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0276-order-credit-reports).