The Checkout

Watch Out for The Credit Watchers

Before I begin, a little housekeeping.

Thanks to the reader who clarified that "ein lo sechel" is Hebrew for "he has no sense."

Lots of expertise out there on ads for FMNV in schools.

Thanks to reader DJV9973 who tried to explain why the payoff is so small for schools that allow ads for FMNV.
"I suspect that advertising for FMNV is largely comprised of signs on vending machines and advertising distributed through other media such as newspapers, magazines and closed-circuit television broadcasting equipment. Schools don't receive money for the vending machine advertisements, but they do receive money for the vending machine placement. They also don't receive money for the advertising through other media, but instead receive the periodicals and equipment free or at reduced rates."

Also, I think Dr. Phil may have moved to Southern Maryland. SM wrote in: "I don't think it's the schools being snowed by corporations--they are being snowed by the kids who want junk available to them in vending machines."

Kids do love junk, as Lisa Belkin's story last month attested to.

Today, though,we're leaving the school yard to take a look at a different sort of report card: your credit report.

For more, I'm going to refer you to Ed Mierzwinski of US PIRG who has his own consumer blog.

Ed's an expert about credit issues and he's posted a lengthy item about how the three largest credit bureaus are trying to do an end-run around the 10-year old Credit Repair Organizations Act, which protects consumers from phony credit repair doctors.

The Cliff Notes Version: The Big Three--Experian, Equifax and Trans Union want protection from lawsuits filed against them over so-called credit monitoring services. They charge between $40 and $150 and promise to notify you about changes to your credit report. It's supposed to help protect you against identity theft.

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer's Report, says they're little more than a waste of money. And that's the very reason some consumer lawyers sued the Big Three under CROA, which was designed to protect consumers from credit fixing scams by keeping companies from collecting fees in advance.

If you want to know more, you can check out Ed's post here.

Inquiring minds want to know: Do you already check your credit report for free? And have you ever tried one of these credit monitoring services? And was it worth it?

not sure the id theft link completely fits, but we could add it as a second sentence in this epilogue. Does this work for you?

Epilogue: This link on Bankrate gives worthwhile advice on how to choose a legitimate credit repair service.

By Annys Shin |  September 22, 2006; 7:14 AM ET Credit Issues
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I used a $5/mo credit monitoring service, and it's worth it to me simply because it keeps me from worrying constantly about my credit report. If things change, it lets me know. Not that much to pay for being able to worry about other things instead. :-)

Posted by: kate | September 22, 2006 8:23 AM

I have checked out my credit report from two of the Big 3 credit bureaus. Though I'm 22 and don't have much in the way of established credit, I did it to make sure there were no errors; it's a big thing since my father and I have the same name.

One thing, though. One of the reports has my birthday incorrectly listed, and instructions on how to clean that up aren't clear. What do I do?

Posted by: Chris | September 22, 2006 9:28 AM

One of my credit card numbers was stolen and when the company notified me of the charges (which I didn't have to pay), they set me up with a credit monitoring service for three months for free. The cost is $12/mo and I kept it after the three months because it gives me all three credit reports whenever I want them and my credit score as well as letting me know if any changes are made to my credit reports.

Before the stolen number incident, I had been getting my credit reports free each year through the government program but it's nice to be able to get updated copies whenever I want and to get my credit score as well.

Posted by: Melissa | September 22, 2006 9:32 AM

Once you establish a base line with the three free reports, don't get all three at once again. Instead, space them at four month intervals throughout the year. Not quite as good as monthly reports, but still completely free!

Posted by: kurosawaguy | September 22, 2006 9:37 AM is a good site.

You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three CRA each year. No strings attached, no enrollment in credit monitoring, no credit insurance offers, nothing.

It was phased in last year with the east coast being eligible Sept. 05.

For those who got them last year it's time to think about it again, for those who didn't, it's time to get them.

I read a report that 80% of all credit reports have mistakes. Like the incorrect birthdate from above.

My credit report had a couple of bounced checks that were at an address I'd moved from a year prior. So since I had moved, the bank was out of Portland and I had never had a Portland bank, and after calling the collection company I discovered they had filed it with the wrong SSN. So that was cleared up rather quickly.

While some may like the peace of mind of credit monitoring, I don't think it will really alert you much before you'll naturally discover it yourself.

For me the yearly free credit report is plenty, and I don't have to worry about canceling any services.

Posted by: Free credit report each year | September 22, 2006 9:43 AM

This is great advice, I'd heard that before too.

Spacing them out also helps you monitor your credit better.

Posted by: to kurosawaguy | September 22, 2006 9:46 AM

About 18 months ago, we received 1 year of credit monitoring for free, due to potential identity theft.

In that year, we moved out of state (which involved mortgages, utilities, etc.), and one of first things we did at the new address was open a new credit card. I never heard about this activity from the monitoring service. You would think a new credit card at a new address would be a red flag.

Posted by: skm | September 22, 2006 10:47 AM

I rely on the free reports, staggered throughout the year. I'm also tenacious about disputing errors in the report. The bureau Experian has had four or five versions (all wrong) of my correct address, which were clearly gleaned from mailing lists, and not from actual bills I had (all bills had my correct and complete address at all times, but junk mail did not...hmmm...) Makes you wonder just what sources these places use to get info on you. Doesn't seem like it's SOLELY based on reported info, but I could be wrong.

I also had a wrong SSN listed on my account, one I had never used and which was one number off. I've disputed it several times, and yet it remains glued to my credit report as "other ssn used".

What I hate most about this whole setup is that the burden of proof, the burden of monitoring other people's mistakes, and the burden of making corrections all lies on ME, the consumer, who submitted paperwork correctly and who had no control over the incompetent data entry folks who make mistakes with my information. Something is wrong with this picture. I did not sign up to have my data shared with other creditors. I signed up for services with ONE company. Shouldn't my info stay with that ONE company, only traveling to another company if I...*I*...I initiate contact for a product or service and submit my info on paperwork?? This whole data trading industry ticks me off to no end because who sees my data completely out of my control and happens without my permission. And then I have to bear the cost of catching and cleaning up the inevitable mistakes and screw-ups!

I liked the days of good old-fashioned word of mouth. If company A thinks I'm a great prospect, they tell company B my name and contact info ONLY, fit for a cold call. No ssn, no credit histories, no cumulative mistakes are swapped and my hair doesn't turn gray earlier than it needs to!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | September 22, 2006 11:15 AM

And for the record, I'm only 26, and have been tenacious about my credit report since I got my first card almost a decade ago. Thank my mother for her good financial sense she passed on to me :-) There...I see a gray hair already just thinking about the damage that could be done to my good name with one slip of the keystroke!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | September 22, 2006 11:18 AM

My auto insurance carrier wanted to raise my auto insurance because of my credit report. I pay all bills each month, credit cards too, I couldn't figure out what the problem was. If you close a department store account/credit card account, make sure you have the company report this to the credit bureaus, and follow up and make sure it was done, if not, these remain on your credit report, even though you may have never used the cards. Get rid of all unused cards. I switched my auto insurance carrier and at a lower rate, and got all dead cards off my record.

Posted by: Oakton | September 22, 2006 12:38 PM

Credit monitoring services are a rip off, plain and simple.

Both myself and my wife signed up for the free trial. We both canceled before the end of the 30 day period. We were both charged at the end of the period. We had to fight a tough battle to get our money back.

It's not just us. There are thousands of other stories out there like ours.

I do monitor my own credit three times a year using It's easy, free and about as effective as an expensive credit monitoring service.

I have also signed up for PayPal's free credit monitoring service. It's a very barebones service but the price is right.

I have my own article on credit monitoring at where I discuss free alternatives to credit monitoring, the deceptive practices used by the big three credit bureaus and more.

Ultimately, you shouldn't need to pay the credit bureaus for "protection" against negative and erroneous information they are dishing out to your business partners. American consumers deserve free and unfettered access to their credit reports!

Posted by: Jeff | September 22, 2006 12:54 PM

Who watches the Watchmen?

Posted by: Kim | September 22, 2006 1:10 PM

My husband and I use one of the Big 3's credit monitoring service.

We use it because my husband travels a lot for business, and has been known to leave a credit card or his entire wallet behind at a restaurant. He's been lucky to date, but luck doesn't hold forever.

So now when this happens, we have easy, anytime access to our credit reports and alerts if someone tries to open a new account. Though looking over these posts, I'm going to look at some of the other alert services mentioned here.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | September 22, 2006 1:19 PM

the does comes with strings attached. I live and work overseas so I can't get a report, worse still, I can't just freeze my credit...i have no need for it and no one else should either...

" is a good site.

You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three CRA each year. No strings attached, no enrollment in credit monitoring, no credit insurance offers, nothing"

Posted by: jeffl | September 25, 2006 10:56 AM

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