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More Hurdles to Seeing Your Credit Scores

Just when credit scores are more important than ever -- because banks are being so exquisitely picky about them--the credit-score industry is making it more difficult for you to get the full picture. And they're still doing their level best to get you to buy something -- your credit reports -- that federal law says you can have once a year for free.

While reporting yesterday's blog post I noticed a policy change the Experian credit report company had announced in February. Experian told the FICO credit-score company that it could no longer sell Experian-based scores directly to consumers, even though lenders could still see the three-digit scores. Experian wants that consumer-based business for itself.

FICO now sells, at $15.95 each, your score based on the Equifax credit report and the score based on the TransUnion credit report. To get the Experian-based score you have to pay Experian $15 directly. (Experian also sells a different "VantageScore," which is less widely used by lenders, for $5.95. I wouldn't call it a must-have.)

So, to get your full picture, you now have to do business with two Web sites. And both of them will try to sell you expensive daily credit monitoring services under the come-on of allegedly free credit reports and scores. To get the deal, they sign you up for a trial of their credit-monitoring service, so the reports and scores are really only free if you remember to quit during the trial period (30 days for FICO and TransUnion and only 7 days for Experian). After that, you'll be charged about $15 per month -- money most people could better use elsewhere.

Experian also happens to be the company behind those inane TV commercials for "Free Credit Report Dot Com," the ones with the young guys singing about how they're forced to work Renaissance Fairs or wait tables in a seafood joint because they didn't know their credit was wrecked. Ugh.

Skip the "free credit report" come-ons! Use the government-approved Annual Credit Report Web site to request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. The information on those reports is the basis of your credit scores. And the only place you can fix errors is on the credit reports themselves. You can request all three reports at once for a complete picture, or spread out your three requests over the course of the year to keep an eye on changes over time; it's your choice.

Has anyone taken them up on the free trial offers? If you canceled, was the process smooth, or did you end up paying for longer than you had planned?

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  April 21, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Mortgages  | Tags: Experian, FICO, TransUnion, credit, credit report, credit scores, free credit report  
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This is important. Additionally Experian or FICO itself is rolling out a new score which is tuned to mortgage performance. It's called the Beacon and was reported by Housing Wire on March 11.

Given that this will necessarily have slightly different criteria than your normal FICO score, its very frustrating as a buyer whose cultivated that score quite diligently. Because the things I did (other than always paying on time) to obtain that score were not always things that I would think bankers would have seen as positive indicators.

Posted by: kingstowne_renter | April 21, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Have not done that free trial, but I have in the past tried to drop near the end of the initial trial offer. I had planned ahead when I signed up, writing down on the receipt the agent gave me. I signed up in person--you could print out the terms if you sign up on the web, or write down the date and pertinent info if handled over the phone. When I was two weeks out from the end of the offer (several days in advance of when I needed to cancel), I called to cancel. They told me that my credit card had already been charged for the next time period, but the service could cancel after that. I firmly replied that I had my receipt in hand, and explained what I had been told, and informed the customer service agent that the charges needed to be reversed. They were, but only because I was persistent.

Posted by: janedoe5 | April 21, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I've tried the free trials at and also with Trans Union. I didn't have a problem cancelling before the trial period was over. I liked MyFico a little better because you could cancel online and an email confirmation was sent to me almost instantly. With Trans Union I had to cancel over the phone. It was still simple, but I prefer not having to contact them by phone when I signed up for the trial via their website.

Posted by: dcdrogers | April 21, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Craig Watts, the public affairs manager for FICO, just called to make sure it's clear to readers that the credit scores that Experian is selling directly to consumers do not use FICO's credit-scoring formula.

Posted by: Erazzi | April 21, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

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