Paola wrote 'Keep Calm and Pay off Your Debts', a guide to managing debt and the stress that comes with it
Credit Reference Agencies
Credit reference agencies have different ways to calculate a credit score based on your credit history, what information lenders have about you and other personal information (for example, if you are in the Electoral Register), so you can get a different score depending on which agency you contact. There are discrepancies in credit scores because not all lenders will provide information to all credit reference agencies. In the US there are three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These agencies are required by law to offer one free copy of your credit report a year under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This fact may not be common knowledge, as credit reporting agencies tend to advertise mostly their monthly fees. To obtain a free credit report you need to apply via Annual Credit Report (however, this site will not provide your credit score).
In the UK there are also three credit reference agencies: Experian, Equifax and CallCredit. You will need to pay £2 to obtain a statutory credit report from any of these agencies.
If you pay to get access to your credit score and credit report via a third party like a lender it will show as a hard enquiry on your credit report, which can have a negative effect on your credit score. Some websites offering free credit reports will also ask for your credit card details to create a profile. They operate on an initial free trial basis, after which you have to pay a monthly fee to keep accessing your credit reports.
Keeping Your Finances in Check
What Is the Best Site to Get a Free Credit Report?
If you are based in the US, any of the three credit reference agencies will give you one free credit report a year. In the UK, you are actually better off paying a small £2 fee to save you the hassle of registering with free credit report websites. To answer this question, there is no particular website that is better than others.
Every Free Credit Report Site Has Issues
Your credit score can vary from agency to agency, as each company calculates the scored differently using proprietary algorithms and accessing different data. Sometimes an agency may not receive the same data as another agency, or there may be delays.
Credit score calculations can change over time as well: for example, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion have enhanced their reporting to ensure they show when you have paid off and exclude old debts that are no longer relevant.
The key is understanding your current credit position and, if needed, do your best to improve it. It's almost impossible to have a perfect credit score and your past history may not guarantee access to credit in the future. Always make sure you rectify any errors in your report to increase your chances of boosting your credit score.
Experian offers a free credit report in the US, which gets refreshed on a monthly basis. There is no need to give out your credit card details. This service does not include access to your credit score.
Experian gives you free access to your credit score but not to your credit report in the UK (you pay £2 for your credit report). Experian’s CreditExpert service gives you access to your credit score and credit report for £14.99 a month after an initial 30 day free trial.
People who have tried Credit Sesame weren’t totally satisfied according to online reviews. The main complaint is the amount of marketing emails they receive from the company and the financial products the company recommends. Other complaints include not being able to access your profile or having problems when cancelling the membership. The company offers advice to improve your credit score, however some customers have reported to be unsatisfied with this service. Credit Sesame gets a referral fee each time you sign up for a new credit card or other financial product.
The Premium account aims at giving specific advice on improving your credit score and costs $19.95.
Credit Karma is a free service giving access to your credit report (and score) with two consumer credit reference agencies, TransUnion and Equifax. Unlike other sites, there are no initial free trials but the service is free for life without registering your credit card details. Online reviews are better on average than other free credit report sites, however common complaints are the number of promotional emails customers receive, the fact that credit scores can sometimes be inaccurate and that the premium services like which lenders have viewed your report and web alerts can be expensive. Among the premium services offered are filing your taxes and renegotiating your mortgage. The company makes money from lead generation by matching consumers with lenders.
Clearscore is not a credit reference agency but it can give you access to your Equifax credit score and credit report for free. It has a useful comparison table of credit checking sites and what they offer. Clearscore makes money by recommending financial products to consumers.
Equifax offers a free credit report (in the US and the UK). In the US Equifax charges $15.95 to access your credit score and credit report. In the UK Equifax charges £7.95 a month for credit report and score after an initial 30 day free trial.
Annual Credit Report
Back in 2008 Forbes recommended Annual Credit Report to access a free credit report from the three U.S. credit reporting agencies. The free service from Annual Credit Report does not include getting your credit score. One of the downsides of using a service such as Annual Credit Report is that your details are passed on to third parties offering credit and insurance so you need to ask the consumer credit recording companies to delete your details from their mailing list. Online reviews are not very positive, with many users complaining that the way the site obtains information is old-fashioned (you need to send identity documents through the post and, therefore, you are more likely to become a target for identity theft).
Noddle is a CallCredit company offering a free credit report facility. The report is quite basic, giving you a score and comparing it to the national average. It also lists your creditors and whether you are in arrears with them. However, it may not feature all your debt. The website makes money from commissions recommending financial products and from giving advice on how to improve your credit score. The latter, in particular, is through three premium service offerings called Noddle Improve (£30 a year), Web Watch (£20 a year) and Noddle Alerts (£20 a year). You can get those premium services for free if you are an Aqua credit card customer (however, Aqua credit cards have high interest rates at 34.9% APR). Aqua cards are specifically targeted at people with poor credit score with a view to help them build/improve their credit.
If you have problems obtaining credit it is tempting to be lured into Noddle’s offers displayed prominently on the website to open new lines of credit. These credit products tend to be very expensive and you may end up lowering your credit score.
The main advantage of using a website like Noddle is the ability to check if there are any errors in your credit history that you need to rectify. You can do that for free and quite easily.
Another factor you may want to consider is that the website tends to be down often, so you can’t log in to access your profile.
It just takes one quick look at the reviews for Freecreditreport.com to find out that it’s better to steer clear from this website. The main complaints are about their credit monitoring service, whose price has been rising steadily over time, and the hidden charges that come with membership. To register for the free report you need to give your credit card details and if you don’t cancel your membership you will be charged a monthly fee. Users that have left negative reviews of the company mentioned it is very difficult to cancel the membership and they have been charged. Moreover, to access one credit report you will still need to pay $1 for a seven day trial, so technically the service is not free. To access three credit reports and your credit score you have to pay $39.95.
TranSunion is a US credit reporting agency. It offers one free credit report a year. To obtain your credit score you need to pay $9.95. The price of a credit report is variable and depends on which US state you live in.
Is it worth registering for a free credit report and credit score? After reading through reviews and comments in online forums, the main issue that people have highlighted with regards to free credit report sites is the amount of hassle they involve. From spam emails to hidden charges, it seems that most of these sites are not worth your time.
If you live in the US you can obtain one credit report a year for free, whereas in the UK you will need to pay a small fee. Most people will not make big ticket purchases every year so having continuous access to a credit report would not be necessary. You only need to check your credit history once a year to look for any inaccurate information and rectify any errors. The most important things to do are to pay off your debts over time and close any superfluous lines of credit as they are likely to affect your credit score negatively (if they are relatively credit accounts, as well managed old accounts count towards your credit score).
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why do loan companies take the score from FICO? Why is it different from TransUnion? My TransUnion score is high enough for a loan, but with FICO, it is lower.
Answer: As far as I understand it, each agency uses a different method to calculate credit scores. It's worth talking to an independent financial advisor if you are planning an important purchase.
Paola Bassanese (author) from London on August 07, 2019:
Thank you Billie.
Billie Raucci from Illinois on July 31, 2019:
Good read. Interesting.