Question: "Why is it incredibly cumbersome to get your credit report and FICO score? There are so many detours, traps and dead-ends. Where can I go to get trustworthy information about my credit history and credit score?"
Answer: This question exposes what many of us in the credit space already know … it's a jungle out there.
Smart consumers understand that it's important to have good credit. The first step to maintaining a good credit score is to get your credit reports from time to time so you can see what the credit bureaus are saying about you. This process is supposed to be easy enough so claiming your credit reports doesn't become burdensome to the point you do it once, and never again.
SmartMoney published an article a little over a year ago identifying the significant growth of websites that sell credit-related products and services. At publication time, the number was "more than 20 websites," which was up from five a decade prior. Multiple destinations offering similar credit-related products and services can sometimes leave the consumer feeling confused as to which are the most appropriate and reputable.
Getting Free Credit Reports
You have the right under Federal law to claim your free credit reports once every 12 months. In order to leverage these rights, you have to go to www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the only website where you can claim your legitimately free credit reports provided for under Federal law.
If you live in Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Puerto Rico or Vermont, you're entitled to one additional free credit report per year. Georgia residents get two free reports per calendar year. In order to claim your state law freebie, you have to go directly to the credit bureaus' websites, which are www.Equifax.com, www.Experian.com and www.TransUnion.com. You cannot claim your free credit report per state law via the annualcreditreport.com website.
Getting Free Credit Scores or Buying FICO Scores
You do not have the right under any law for free annual credit scores, although a provision in Dodd-Frank requires that if your credit score was used to make an adverse decision in response to a credit application, then the lender has to give you your score for free.
There are a variety of outlets that will give you a score if you sign up for a credit monitoring service trial subscription. Opinions vary on whether or not that's"free" or"conditionally free."
This site will give you a free credit score from Experian called the"Experian National Risk Model." It's a legit credit score that's available for sale to lenders. It's not a FICO score, but it will give you a very good idea of what kind of credit risk you pose to lenders. No credit card is required for claim your free score.
This site will give you a free TransRisk credit score from TransUnion, which is also commercially available to lenders. Again, it's not a FICO score, but it will give you an idea of your credit risk. You can also get your VantageScore credit score from the site. VantageScore is also a credit score available to lenders. No credit card is required to claim your free score.
This site will sell you your FICO scores based on Equifax and/or TransUnion data. myFICO is the consumer division of FICO (formerly known as Fair, Isaac) and these are the guys that invented the ubiquitous FICO credit score. The cost is $19.95 per credit report and score.
This site will sell you your FICO score based only on Equifax data. Be aware that they also sell a non-FICO score. Point being, if you want to get your FICO score, then be sure it says"FICO score" and not simply"credit score." The cost is $19.95.
Freezing Your Credit Reports
The credit freeze is infinitely more effective at protecting you from identity theft than simply monitoring your credit reports. Freezing your credit reports is proactive and locks out any lender trying to process new credit applications. Monitoring your credit reports is reactive and tells you after something bad has already happened. The good news is that freezing your credit reports is much less expensive than paying monthly subscriptions to monitor your credit report.
To freeze your credit reports you can go to:
Stopping or Minimizing Credit Card Offers
Under Federal law, you have the right to prevent the credit reporting agencies from selling your name to creditors who want to offer you pre-approved offers of credit. This is often called "Opting Out."
If you're not opted out, then your name can be sold, normally to credit card issuers, who will take a first pass at screening your credit reports and FICO score. If you meet or surpass their criteria you may get a firm offer of credit in the mail.
The Bottom Line
Most states allow one free credit report per year, but some allow two. Good credit is important, so checking it every year is recommended. There are numerous sites available on the web that will allow to to check your credit score.