Friday, September 30, 2005

George Mindling Column 9-30-2005

Making Sure Your Free Credit Report is Free


If you don't cancel your membership within the 30-day trial period, you will be billed $12.95 for each month that you continue your membership. That’s the fine print contained in the Web Page of http://www.freecreditreport.com/. That web page is advertised on television and offers consumers credit services that are often needed. However, it is not to be confused with the free credit reports everyone is entitled to under the current credit card laws. The Federal Trade Commission web page at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/freereports.htm explains the only authorized web site for the federally mandated reports.

Everyone is entitled to an annual free credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting firms, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. The three companies jointly sponsor a web site for you to easily get your free annual credit report on line. The free annual credit report web site is https://www.annualcreditreport.com/, and can now be accessed by everyone as the last region went on-line September 1st.

Each of the three companies must be accessed individually for their report. The beauty of the joint page is each of the firms can be accessed, one after the other if you choose to do so, from the one page. Each firm asks a different series of questions using secure web links to validate who you are. The questions and formats differ between companies, and even the information reported by the firms differs somewhat. The “Credit Score” is not part of the free report, but can be added for a nominal one-time charge by each of the companies.

To keep a running check on your credit status, request one report every four months from one company, wait four months then get another report from the second company. Finally, ask for your last report four months later from the third company.

The first thing I noticed about my reports was an incorrect address someone had accidentally entered for my former address in Miami. The correct address was listed prior to 1997, but an extraneous digit had been added in 1998 effectively changing my residence to some 20 miles out in the Everglades. Other than that, I could see no other discrepancies in my report. Each firm has a web page explaining how to dispute the information if I decide to correct the address error. You must follow several steps to initiate an investigation into your complaint, and of course you can do it by mail if you choose to do so.

Each of the three firms offers more detailed credit reporting services for different fees, much as Freecreditreport .com from their respective web sites. In fact, it is difficult to find your free credit report on any of their individual home pages pages. The joint credit report page is fast and easy to use. By the way, the “s” in the https part of the Internet address means it is a secure site.

It is a good idea to keep track of the companies that are keeping track of you.

George Mindling

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