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Monday, July 19, 2010

How do you know when "free" credit reports are actually free? Many of the free credit reports offered by companies often come with strings attached; hidden fees or enrollment charges after a free trial period ends, for example. In April 2010, a new rule from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) went into effect that requires web sites advertising "free" credit reports to direct people to the only government-approved site for free credit reports: HYPERLINK "http://www.annualcreditreport.com" www.annualcreditreport.com.

Prior to the new rule, companies and web sites other than www.annualcreditreport.com offered "free" credit reports in conjunction with a package of services, such as credit monitoring. For example, you would have access to a free credit report for a trial period, and then be charged a monthly fee for a credit monitoring service once the trial period ended. Unknowing consumers may be charged upwards of $15 a month for what could be unnecessary services.

Under the new rule, HYPERLINK "http://www.annualcreditreport.com" www.annualcreditreport.com is the only site offering truly free credit reports, and all other companies offering credit reports for a fee must disclose their fees in their advertisements. When obtaining your free credit report, there are a few ways you can access it:

Once every 12 months, from each of the credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You can access each report through annualcreditreport.com.

If you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, or if you are unemployed and looking for work (potential employers can pull your credit report).

Or, if you've been denied credit or insurance.

What does this mean for you? First, if you'd just like to view your credit report so you can monitor changes or look for inaccuracies, you can do so by accessing one report from each bureau, once every twelve months. You can either obtain all three reports once every twelve months, or request one report from each bureau once every four months. For example, request one report from Experian in January, one report from Equifax in May, and one report from Transunion in September. Checking your report every four months is a good way to keep track of any changes or dispute inaccurate information in a timely manner.

In addition, if you think you are a victim of identity theft and someone is fraudulently using credit in your name, you can request a copy of your report. If you are denied credit, insurance, or employment, you're entitled to a free report if you request your report within 60 days of receiving notice of denial. This notice will give you the contact information of the consumer reporting company and tell you how to obtain your report. Finally, according to the FTC, "you're also entitled to one free report per year if you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days... or if you're on welfare."

There are many reasons to obtain your credit report, and knowing how, when, and where to access it for free can help keep your credit history on the right track. If you have any questions about how to obtain your report or about the information in your credit report, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension has program specialists available. Please contact your local ISU Extension office and staff there will put you in contact with a program specialist.