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Use caution in securing 'free' credit report

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Credit reports 101

There's often confusion about the difference between a credit score and a credit report. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they're not the same thing.

• A credit report is a history of your bills, loans and credit card payments. It's free once a year from

• A credit score is a three-digit number based on all the information contained in your credit reports. A credit score is used by banks and lenders to determine the interest rates you'll pay for credit cards, mortgages, student loans, etc. The higher your score, the better your interest rate.

By The Sacramento Bee
Sunday, July 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When is free really not free? When it comes to getting your “free” credit report.

Plenty of TV, radio and Internet ads promise consumers a copy of their free credit report, but what they really want is to entice you into signing up for “credit monitoring” or other services. Those are decidedly not free, running anywhere from $15 to $30 a month or more on your credit card bill.

Sacramento, Calif., retiree Jim Fossum found out the hard way.

In May, he thought he was going online to ask for a free copy of his credit report from — the official website for such requests. He got the report with no problem, but was startled when a $29.95 monthly charge popped up on his next credit card bill.

“I got sucked into something I didn't want,” said Fossum, 82, who isn't sure how he wound up on a different site,, which started charging him for monthly credit monitoring.

“I found out that if you did not send a letter (opting out) within 10 days, you were automatically subscribed.”

Fossum's experience is not uncommon. And that's despite federal regulations that require sites offering free credit reports to provide full disclosure about trial memberships and a link to the federally authorized

There's only one website that is federally authorized to provide consumers with free annual credit reports: By law, everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

You can order them all at once. Some credit experts recommend spacing them out over a year, ordering one from a different bureau every four months, in order to have a continuous snapshot of your credit history.

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