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In search of the elusive $11 credit report

Federal law limits the charge for a credit report to a maximum of $11. But that doesn't do you much good if it's hidden behind a wall of up-sell.

By Stacy Johnson Mar 22, 2012 12:56PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyYou know how important your credit is. From jobs to credit cards, from insurance to mortgages, your credit touches nearly every aspect of your financial life.


That's why the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the big three credit-reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- to allow you a free copy of your credit history once a year. You get it by ignoring the commercials on TV and going to AnnualCreditReport.com.

 

But did you know that credit bureaus can charge no more than $11 if you need to purchase a credit report?  In the video below, I show how hard it is for even a credit expert to find the inexpensive report you're entitled to. Check it out, then meet me on the other side for more.


If everyone from a potential employer to your insurance company is going to make decisions or set rates based on your credit history, it's only fair that you have easy access to a free report from each credit bureau every year. 


But what if you want to look at it more often? There are some circumstances in which you can get additional free reports. From the Federal Trade Commission website:

You're entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company. You're also entitled to one free report a year if you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; if you're on welfare; or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft.

Image: Woman with computer (© Don Mason/Blend Images/Corbis)If you've used your free reports and don't fall into the above categories, however, you'll have to pay for additional copies. But the law also sets the maximum fee for that: $11.

 

But that law doesn't do you much good if the companies tasked with providing it hide it instead. And that's exactly what it seems like when you try to find an $11 credit report on any of the big credit-reporting bureaus' websites. What you'll find instead is up-sell: a confusing plethora of product pitches from credit-monitoring services to report/score bundles.

 

Follow-up

As I closed the video story above, I promised to tell you what the FTC had to say when I asked about the difficulty of obtaining what credit-reporting agencies are obligated to provide. Here's the response I finally got back:

Unfortunately, there are no specific requirements under the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) as to how the CRAs (Credit Reporting Agencies) market their products and services, except with respect to the free annual file disclosures that can be obtained from annualcreditreport.com.

I also asked TransUnion, Experian and Equifax for a comment. Only one, Equifax, responded:  


Consumers who have already obtained their annual, free Equifax credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com site, may purchase an Equifax Credit Report via the same website for $11. Visiting Equifax.com will provide consumers several other single use and monitoring products at varying price points, as you mentioned.

My next step was to go to AnnualCreditReport.com and try to find the promised $11 report. No luck. So I wrote back and asked where it was. Response:


Stacy, you actually have to go through the order flow to obtain a free report. If you've already obtained your report, you'd be served a page in the order flow with the purchase option.

How to find cheap reports

If you've used your quota or otherwise don't qualify for a free report, here's a step-by-step guide that will steer you to the cheapest options at the websites of the three big credit bureaus.


TransUnion

  1. Click the tiny "Site Map" link at the very bottom of TransUnion.com. (It's in the middle, sort of.)
  2. In the lefthand column labeled "Personal," under the section header "Credit Disputes, Alerts and Freezes," click "Credit Reports and Disclosures."
  3. On the right is a "Convenient online services" box with a link to "Purchase a TransUnion Credit Report."
  4. This leads you to a form to create an account, after which there is a checkbox about buying your "personal score" for $9.95. Skip it and you'll get the option to purchase a "personal credit report" for $11.

Equifax

  1. Go to Equifax.com and move your cursor over "Equifax Products" in the upper left, which will present a drop-down menu. Click the last link, "Compare Products."
  2. Here you'll see a handy list of all the junk you didn't ask for compared side-by-side. What you want isn't even visible as an option yet. Click the red "Single Use Products" tab.
  3. Now you'll see four more options ranging from $15 to $40, which still don't include just the basic report. Scroll down and find the $9.95 "Identity Report," which is the cheapest option we found.

Experian

Our pro gave up after 15 minutes of hunting for the $11 option. Given the number of links on the front page -- including Experian's highlighted product, which claims to provide your credit report and score for $1, but will auto-bill you $17.95 a month unless you cancel within a week -- we can't blame him. But in terms of the number of steps and clicks, this may actually be the easiest site to navigate once you know where to look.

  1. On Experian.com, in the bottom left "Products" column, click the first option: credit report.
  2. You'll get a side-by-side comparison that, unlike Equifax, includes the cheap option on the first page, instead of at the bottom of a second page. On the right you'll see a link to order a $10 "Experian credit check."
The bottom line

When I started as a consumer reporter more than 20 years ago, you couldn't see your credit report at any price. After years of outcry from consumer advocates, it became possible to pay to see your report. Finally, Congress relented and changed the law to allow for one free report and unlimited cheap ones.


But they aren't easy to find when credit-reporting agencies are allowed to heavily advertise deceptive websites like FreeCreditReport.com. And cheap credit reports won't do you any good if you're unable to wade through a maze of up-sell to find them.


The FTC's mission statement is to prevent deceptive practices. In at least this instance, I think they're failing in their mission.


What do you think?


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:


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