AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website for free credit reports that is mandated and authorized by federal government, but it’s still sketchy.
In 2003 President Bush signed into law the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act. One of its provisions required each of the 3 major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to provide consumers free access to their credit reports every 12 months.
This act gave birth to the AnnualCreditReport.com website, which contrary to popular belief, is not a government-run site. Rather, it is operated by Central Source LLC, which is a joint venture created by the three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
Be forwarned: their website does NOT provide free credit scores! If you try and get your score through it, you may have to enroll in a dubious “free” trial that’s extremely hard to cancel during the 7 day grace period. After that you will be charged.
There are only four ways for consumers to get their real FICO score. The vast majority of website, including the offers through AnnualCreditReport.com, use imitation scoring models that are not FICOs. What they offer you is NOT used by lenders or creditors, it’s merely a score for “educational purposes” that is practically useless.
If you want to get your real FICO, there are only 4 sources licensed to provide it directly to consumers as of February 2014:
- (PAID) Pay $19.95 to MyFICO (FICO’s website) every single time you want to check it.
- (PAID) Pay $23.95 to Equifax every single time you want to check it.
- (FREE) With this card from Discover, you get it for free every month on your statement:
- (FREE) Similar to Discover, this card from Barclays provides you with your true FICO score every month for free:
Going back to the complaints about the AnnualCreditReport.com website, perhaps owner needs to take a good hard look at the complaints we are hearing from consumers, because many feel it is a bit scammy, at least in some regards.
Complaint #1: Misleading Name
First and foremost, let’s discuss the name.
We all remember that imposter website, FreeCreditReport.com, which took a lot of criticism for its similar sounding name (sidenote: they now focus on their other site, FreeCreditScore.com instead). But in all fairness, it’s not like AnnualCreditReport.com has the best name either.
Why? Because with the word “annual” in there, many people assume that means once per year. They think it means they can check their credit report from each of the 3 bureaus once per calendar year (example: Check Equifax once in 2014, once in 2015, and so forth).
Unfortunately, that’s not how it actually works. Rather than going by calendar year, it goes by every 12 months.
When the end of the calendar year rolls around – like the fourth quarter – I regularly hear from consumers who rush to check all three credit reports, thinking the clock will reset on January 1st. It’s not until the following year when they discover they will have to wait twelve full months after checking before they can do it again. If they would have known that, they wouldn’t have checked all 3 at the same time.
Self disclosure time: At one point I even believed this was how it worked and made that same mistake.
Complaint #2: Misleading Credit Score Ads
When using the Annual Credit Report website you will be bombarded with paid ads; some clearly identified as such, others not so much.
The TransUnion report is the one I hear the most complaints about, the one that most people allege feels like a scam. Here’s why…
The “I want my free credit score” is an advertisement and so is the Score tab which is next to the Report tab at the top.
Click and you will be taken to this page (I took this screenshot in an earlier year):
It’s not until after you click the “FREE SCORE” button above where you are taken to a page which fully explains that you are actually enrolling in a 7-day trial. Yeah, technically it is free but if you don’t cancel, you will be automatically billed at the regular price (which was $14.95 per month last I checked).
Now in all honesty, I actually don’t have a problem with these types of “free” trial offers. I don’t think they are a scam as long the terms are clearly and prominently identified (in order words, if the consumer truly knows what they’re signing up for).
But when you look at the way TransUnion is peddling this, in my opinion it is done in a less transparent manner than some other websites. Even the highly criticized “free” trial websites of FreeCreditScore.com/FreeCreditReport.com seem to be more upfront.
So talk about irony… everyone promotes AnnualCreditReport.com like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, as if it can do no wrong. But in actuality, it *might* mislead a consumer just like the other sites do. Think about it… would your grandma be confused by that bright red “I want my FREE Credit Score!” link? I know mine would, especially if she erroneously believed she was on a government website.
Complaint #3: Website Not Working
I have heard people allege that there is some sort of AnnualCreditReport.com scam going on when they can’t access the website. Their theory is that it’s allegedly used as a trick, to deter them from the free report and instead, go to credit bureau’s website directly and buy a report.
Coincidentally, while writing this review I actually encountered Experian not being available (pictured left).
But does this make AnnualCreditReport.com a scam? Definitely not. That conspiracy theory is nonsense.
When a bureau is unavailable like this, it’s probably due to routine site maintenance or some other temporary issue. If that happens, just check back later and it should be working. For me, that message was gone 20 minutes later.
Conclusion? This is frustrating to encounter but don’t worry, this is NOT a scam. Just be patient and return a bit later.
Complaint #4: Can’t Confirm Your ID
A couple times when I’ve used the AnnualCreditReport.com website, I wasn’t able to pull all my reports. A message would be spit back saying they can’t confirm my identity and to get the report through this site, I would have to jump through hoops to validate my ID. If I recall correctly, it involved mailing in proof.
On the forum I have seen people say there is a scam going on when this happens. Well guess what? It’s not a scam or trick. The truth is that they really do have to validate you’re the real deal before handing over your personal report. So these complaints are 100% baseless in my opinion.
Complaint #5: Peddling Identity Theft Protection
Thanks to all those TV commercials for LifeLock and Identity Guard, the business of selling monthly ID protection subscriptions seems to be hotter than ever (but it’s debatable whether they’re justified).
So I guess it comes as no surprise that over the last few years, now we not only have to endure ads for credit scores, but also ID monitoring. But fortunately, thus far I haven’t seen any which are confusing like some of the credit score ads are.
But at the end of the day…
…this is still by far the best site to get your credit reports for free. Despite the complaints, AnnualCreditReport.com is NOT a scam.
Sure, the quality of AnnualCreditReport.com is going down as the numbers of ads go up, but it’s still the only legit place you can get a truly free report without having to enroll in some trial offer… as long as you don’t do so accidentally!
But if you want your FICO for free, you should get a Discover It or one of these offers from Barclays: