When "free" credit reports aren't really free

Question: Hi Ben. I got turned down for a store credit card the other day and I was wondering if I ought to check my credit score. I know I should check my score every now and then, and that it's free. Can you remind me of how best to make sure that my credit score is OK, etc?

Answer:

You're right. It's a good idea to check your credit at least once a year, and it can be free if you do it the right way.

The second paragraph of this page from the Federal Trade Commission's website contains the contact info you will need to request your free credit report:

http://www.annualcreditreport.com

Don't get scammed!

Note that the URL you want to visit is www.ANNUALcreditreport.com and NOT  "FREEcreditreport.com".

The report you rquest should cost you nothing, but look-alike "para-sites" may try to trick you into paying for a credit monitoring service you probably don't need. (A few of the doctors I serve have been fooled by this one.)

You can regularly monitor your credit for free by following these steps:

  1. When you request your annual credit report, choose only one of the three reporting agencies (the rports all show the same basic information).
  2. Four months from now, request another report from a second reporting agency.
  3. Four months after that, request another report from the third reporting agency.

This way you can check your credit three times each year at no cost.

And by the way, skip the department store and gas card offers. Too many open lines of credit can reduce your credit score.