How to get your free FICO score and avoid getting ripped off
By Joe Taylor Jr.
Updated List Of Free Credit Report Promotional Deals Below
That pirate band from the seafood restaurant has changed its tune. For years, singer-songwriter Eric Violette portrayed the harried lead singer of a musical group forced into a series of dead end jobs and sticky situations because they didn't keep close enough watch over their credit reports. When new federal rules prohibited credit bureaus from marketing "free credit reports" in conjunction with subscription services came out these commercials disappeared from the airways.
Since nearly everything today from getting a mortgage, applying for a credit card, and even getting a job depends on your credit score, where can you get free information about your credit?
Not from the government
Free FICO scores aren't included in the government mandated credit reports offered by AnnualCreditReport.com. That's because the contents of your free credit report are facts, while any credit score results from passing those facts through proprietary risk equations. Although lawmakers like to debate over rules that would make credit scores free to consumers, it still costs money to see the same three-digit numbers that banks use to determine creditworthiness.
Even though most free credit score websites don't offer access to "real" FICO scores, the credit models they use closely resemble the scores that lenders would see when reviewing your credit profile.
So where are good places to look to get your credit score?
TransUnion TrueCredit credit monitoring
When I had to work on building my credit score in advance of a real estate deal last fall, I relied on TrueCredit from TransUnion. They'll give you a full seven days to try out their reporting and monitoring service that pulls data from all three credit bureaus. The brokers and loan officers I dealt with at the time recommended TransUnion because it tends to have the fastest reporting when negative entries fall off your report.
The site also gives you easy tools to help synchronize reports from multiple bureaus. This came in handy when a positive trade line showed up at one bureau, but not the other two. If you just want to grab your free credit scores and bolt, call their toll-free number where an agent will close your account without any hassles. Otherwise, you'll pay about $15 per month in exchange for e-mail updates whenever your credit reports change.
This remains one of the only places you can get an actual free FICO score along with a credit monitoring program. The Smart Credit website, operated by Credit.com, lets you sample data from myFICO for ten days. It's a little more expensive per month than similar programs, but you're paying to get the actual FICO score that many major lenders review. The site offers add-on bundles that monitor other credit bureaus, with trial offers that range from 7 to 30 days.
Consumers still get nervous about dealing directly with any of the three major credit bureaus. That's one reason you might consider GoFreeCredit.com, a credit score monitoring service run by an independent company called Consumer Track. Although you can pay about $20 per month to have the service watch for changes in your credit scores across all three bureaus, you can still cancel your $1 trial offer within seven days. They'll even give you the dollar back. Unlike dozens of other websites that make similar claims, GoFreeCredit has a stellar reputation with the Better Business Bureau for honoring cancellation and refund requests.
Equifax credit report and score
Of all three credit bureaus, Equifax has made some of the strongest inroads into to the commercial lending community with its own credit scoring formulas. The Equifax credit score and monitoring program gives you a full 30 days to cancel, if you don't want to proceed with the service. This stripped-down service gives you a top-level view of how lenders evaluate your risk.
Equifax 3-in-1 credit monitoring
Like the other credit bureaus, Equifax offers its own reporting bundle. This 3-in-1 program offers a feature that simulates what might happen to your credit score if you work through various scenarios. Because the Score Simulator bases its results on your actual credit profile, you'll get a very accurate picture of whether it makes sense to pay down a particular account or to spread some debt out using balance transfers.
Before you sign up for any free FICO score service, check the fine print. Some sites make it harder than others to cancel a required subscription. For example, if you have to cancel by phone, and your free time doesn't match up with the customer service center's operating hours, you should probably consider a competing service. Keep track of the free trials you join, since most credit bureaus will only give you one chance to join and cancel a trial membership. Most credit reports only change every few weeks, so space out your attempts to check your credit score.