We all have the legal right to see our credit-score reports for free, but getting them can be complicated.
Teresa Yakes learned the hard way just how complicated it is to get one of those reports. When she was struggling in May to avoid bankruptcy and working with a debt consolidation company, her lawyer told her to get her free credit-score report online. Yakes went to what seemed to her like the obvious place: freecreditreport.com. (Its Web page even features a smiling blond woman holding a giant orange card that says FREE CREDIT SCORE & REPORT.)
Weeks later, Yakes discovered that the site now expected her to pay a fee every month. "I thought, 'screw that,'" Yakes says. "It's supposed to be freecreditreport.com."
To be sure, freecreditreport.com's home page says in a box underneath the blond woman that if you order your free report at the site, you'll also begin a subscription to Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring. That not only gives you those promised "free" reports, but also checks them daily at a fee of $14.95 per month if you don't cancel your membership within a 30-day trial period."We do put that information in to make sure the consumer understands," says Kelly Poffenberger, a spokesman for the Dublin credit-reporting agency Experian Group, which owns freecreditreport.com.
Whether they understand what they're getting or not, many consumers are choosing to pay to see their credit scores these days, and agencies are earning gobs of money by selling services that take the concept of monitoring to new heights.
Experian, for example, raked in $450 million in revenue during full-year 2007 from products such as Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring, compared with $100 million five years ago. Meanwhile the company's rival, Equifax(EFX), made $150 million in 2007, compared with $40 million five years ago, according to Michael Meltz, an analyst at Bear Stearns. "It's a big business," Meltz says.