Are Free Credit Scores Really Free?

If you have ever searched for ‘Free Credit Scores’ then you also know the resulting endless supply of websites that offer “free” credit scores. So it might be confusing to hear that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has called for free credit scores for consumers. Do they mean ‘really free’? As opposed to the ‘strings attached’ offers seen online that often require one to provide contact info or even a credit card in order to get their results. We had a look at the sites that offer good free credit reports today, as well as examining the latest from the Bureau.

The CFPB’s call to action is directed towards credit card companies urging them to give customers free copies of their credit scores. The Times reports, “While the agency is not requiring the companies to provide the information, it sent a letter to top executives at the nation’s largest credit card companies and asked them to make the scores available in customers’ monthly statements or online.”

This is important as it allows consumers to self-monitor their reports and dispute any perceived errors before they are applying for a loan.

Another hidden benefit is having less inquiries on your credit report, that can actually lower one’s credit score! The CFPB guidance will greatly empower consumers to take action on their own behalf.

This practice builds on a trend started by a few card issuers who provide the scores on their own. Discover, for instance, started offering free FICO scores to users of its “Discover it” cards in November, and it recently expanded that to millions of additional cardholders.

“I love the fact that credit card companies are beginning to provide credit scores along with monthly statements,” said Drew Isler, Manager at Cumulus Funding, who monitors client credit scores. “This allows clients to keep track of their credit scores month to month and makes catching mistakes easier and quicker.”

Barclaycard, the United States card unit of Barclays, and First Bankcard, the card-issuing arm of the First National Bank of Omaha, also began providing free FICO scores last fall.

Credit scores have a certain mystique–and great power as they are the gateway to mortgages, business loans, credit card rates and more. FICO scores created by the Fair Isaac Corporation are based on an individual’s credit as reported by the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The agencies maintain files on more than 200 million consumers and have long been criticized for making it hard for consumers to access their reports–and even more difficult to repair errors.

“Making consumers’ credit scores freely available on their monthly statement or online makes it easier for them to spot problems with their credit report,” said Richard Cordray, director of the consumer bureau.

Currently, consumers may request one free report every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies through the website AnnualCreditReport.com. But, it is important to note that these reports will not include the credit score. If a consumer wants to receive their credit scores through AnnualCreditReport.com, there will be a charge.

“It’s hard to find a website that will provide you with both a free credit report and free credit score,” explains Isler from Cumulus Funding. “We recommend monitoring your credit score through companies like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, while also retrieving an annual credit report from all three major bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com to check for accuracy.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, “AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY authorized source for the free annual credit report.”

Sources:
New York Times article on CFPB. Wikipedia list of Free Credit Report Services.