Keeping tabs on your credit report is one of the best ways you can safeguard your identity. Fortunately, there are a couple of different ways you can obtain a free credit report.
One trick is to sign up for a free trial from a comprehensive credit monitoring service, get your report, and cancel the trial before you’re charged (although we’d recommend keeping the service to monitor your credit). The second way is to sign up with one of the free credit report sites that don’t always offer full reports, but do provide many helpful credit tools.
My recommendation is to go with IdentityForce. It has some of the most extensive monitoring tools out there, you’ll get a 30-day test drive, and it’s always been one of our top picks for credit monitoring. (After the trial period, you’ll need to either cancel, or choose between subscription plans.)
The Simple Dollar’s Best Free Credit Report Sites for 2020
- IdentityForce — offers a 30-day free trial only
- Identity Guard®
- Credit Sesame
- Credit Karma
Just note that all of these are not free forever, however, you do get what you pay for if you keep the service beyond the trial period. Free credit report websites can be tremendously useful, but keep in mind that the ultimate goal of these sites are to generate revenue. Sites like Credit Sesame, Credit Karma, and Quizzle® are all partnered with one of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Their goal is to get your data in exchange for a free credit report so they can serve you more specific offers in the future.
Here are two things to be aware of:
- The credit report sites only provide access to the information found on the specific report of the credit reporting agency they’re partnered with.
- Because they have secure access to your financial information, be aware that you will be pushed products that are tailored to appeal to you and your financial situation.
Also, most of the free credit report sites provide a FICO score, which is used by over 90% of lenders to determine your creditworthiness. If you need to monitor your FICO score, consider signing up with myFICO, which also monitors identity theft.
A Summary of Each Free Credit Report Option
IdentityForce is a reputable free credit report site with high customer service ratings. It offers a 30-day free trial for both UltraSecure and UltraSecure+Credit services. You can either cancel your IdentityForce subscription before the free trial expires, or select from the two services that range from $12.99 to $19.99 per month.
While the UltraSecure plan delivers credit monitoring services, only the more expensive UltraSecure+Credit allows subscribers to view their personal credit reports. Despite this limitation, IdentityForce delivers comprehensive monitoring and alerting options at a competitive price point.
Identity Guard® is a comprehensive credit monitoring and identity-theft protection service. It offers a full-feature 30-day free trial. You can either cancel your subscription prior to the end of your free trial or select from a range of plans that cost from $10 to $25 per month depending on the level of service you need.
Remember, Identity Guard® only offers a 30-day free trial and will require your credit card information when you sign up. It’s then your responsibility to cancel the service before the free trial ends. If you don’t do this, your service will continue and you will be charged according to the terms you agreed to when you signed up. Make sure you read all the fine print so that there are no unwelcome surprises.
Here are some of the features included in the free trial:
- Three credit scores with three-bureau credit report updates
- Detailed analysis showing what is affecting your credit
- Three-bureau credit monitoring with prompt email alerts
- Unlimited toll-free customer service
- $1 million identity theft insurance
- Lost wallet protection
- Address change alerts
- Account takeover alerts
- Public records monitoring
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) stipulates that U.S. residents may obtain a free copy of its credit reports every year from each of the three major nationwide credit-reporting companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website authorized to fill orders for your free annual credit report.
Unless you’re paying for a more comprehensive credit-monitoring service like Identity Guard® — which provides monthly reports from all three major credit reporting agencies — you should take advantage of this opportunity.
You will receive a copy of the reports, which can be requested for instant delivery online or shipped within 15 days if requested by mail or phone. But if you also want your credit score, you will have to pay a fee of $8.
Credit Sesame is partnered with TransUnion and unique in that it has branched out into the identity theft market and provides up to $50,000 identity-theft insurance and ID restoration assistance. It is also more highly monetized than their counterparts, Credit Karma™ and Quizzle, and tailors its credit tools to push products more than advice. However, despite the barrage of ads, identity theft insurance is a welcome bonus from a free service.
With Credit Sesame, you can expect:
- TransUnion credit report alerts
- Analysis of credit and loans
- $50K identity-theft insurance and ID restoration help
- Management of all credit and debt in one place
- Convenience of a mobile app
Credit Karma is exclusively partnered with TransUnion. The company is known for its wide array of credit tools, including a credit report card, credit comparison, credit score simulator, calculators, and advice columns. The website is intuitive and user-friendly — and you will likely see fewer ads than with its competitors, Credit Sesame and Quizzle. The biggest downside is that you’ll only get a partial one-bureau credit report.
With Credit Karma, you can expect:
- TransUnion credit report alerts
- Analysis of credit and loans
- Management of all credit and debt in one place
- Credit report card
- Credit Score Simulator
Quizzle® is exclusively partnered with Equifax, though it used to partner with Experian. With this new development, consumers now have access to all three major credit bureaus through a free online monitoring service.
Quizzle® is more transparent about the fact that it provides financial advice tied to products that fit your financial information. It’s also partnered with some big loan companies, like Quicken Loans.
Quizzle is unique in that it provides a full credit report from credit reporting agency Equifax every six months. Its counterparts, Credit Sesame and Credit Karma™, only provide partial reports from their respective partnered credit-reporting agencies.
With Quizzle®, you can expect:
- Equifax credit report every six months
- VantageScore updates
- A breakdown of each account, including the date it was opened
- No purchase or credit card required
- Free credit card and home loan recommendations
Which is Better: A Free Credit Report or a Credit Monitoring Service?
Under U.S. law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. To obtain this report, you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Since you can get your credit report for free, you might be wondering why you would pay for a credit monitoring service. Here are a few good reasons:
Your free credit report doesn’t include your credit score
Unfortunately, the free credit report to which you’re entitled does not include your FICO score, the number that lenders, landlords, employers, and others use to assess your creditworthiness. This three-digit number ranges from a high of 850 to a low of 300. The higher the score, the less of a risk you represent, which means you can snag a lower interest rate on loans, a lower price on insurance, or even a lower security deposit on that new apartment.
Note that there are a couple of places where you can obtain your score, including the credit-monitoring services that we profile below.Some major banks and credit-card companies currently provide credit scores online or on statements, and more are starting to roll out such a service.
Monthly monitoring gives you the best shot at catching identity theft
If you sign up for a paid credit monitoring service, you’ll be notified if someone fraudulently opens an account in your name. These services typically also offer experts who can help you combat fraud. Without such a service, there’s no telling how long it will be until you become aware of fraud, and you’ll have to do most of the legwork to fix it.
Your credit report may not be accurate
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), errors in credit reports are fairly common. Details that could be incorrect in your credit report include:
- Identity errors
- Incorrect information for opening new accounts
- Data management errors
- Balance errors
The CFPB reports that you should check your credit report frequently for these errors and report them to the proper credit reporting agency when you find them.
Do you only look at your checking account once per year? Checking your credit is just as important.
You may be able to access your credit reports more often than just annually, but not under the best circumstances. Under federal law, you have the right to an additional free credit report based on the following:
- You are the victim of identity theft.
- A company takes adverse action against you, including denying you employment or denying your application for credit and/or insurance.
- You are unemployed and will be actively seeking employment within the next 60 days.
Free Credit Report Scams
Be leery of companies that have “free credit report” or “free credit score” in the name. Only AnnualCreditReport.com is authorized to fill orders for your free annual credit reports.
Other websites that claim to offer “free” services often come with strings attached, most of which are an initial free service that comes with a fee after the trial period. If you’re being asked to provide any payment information upon signing up for a “free” service, make sure you investigate further. The two trial-based services I recommended earlier (Identity Guard® and IdentityForce) are very upfront about the trial periods and don’t attempt mislead customers with tricky wordplay.
In addition to fees, know that AnnualCreditReport.com and the nationwide credit-reporting companies will not reach out to you to obtain personal information. If you’re contacted by anyone claiming to be one of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) or AnnualCreditReport.com, do not provide any of your personal information and make sure to contact the Federal Trade Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who Has Access to My Credit Report?
Don’t be afraid your credit report is out there for the taking. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects you when it comes to who can access your credit reports. You have to give written permission to anyone requesting access to your report including, but not limited to, the following:
- Insurance companies to underwrite your insurance
- Lenders or credit card agencies when you apply for credit
- Potential landlords
In order for a business to obtain a copy of your credit report, they must have a “permissible purpose,” as defined in section 604 of the FCRA.
Empower Yourself With Free Credit Reports
The best thing you can do for yourself and your financial future is to take responsibility and ensure your credit reports are accurate. The amount of money you can save from having the best possible credit score is monumental.
There is often a misconception that credit is something you own, bestowed upon you along with your Social Security number, a long list of freedoms, and access to free education. The truth is that credit is a product.
We may feel we should have the right to full access and knowledge of accurate credit reports since they are used to determine many of our financial opportunities. The reality of the situation is that credit reporting agencies do the dirty work of continuously compiling up-to-date information on your home address, financial obligations, and payment history. This information is then sold as detailed reports to third parties, such as creditors, employers, and insurers, in order to determine one’s creditworthiness.
It is your responsibility to check the information on your credit report to ensure that it is accurate and true.
At a minimum, request a copy of your credit reports from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies. If it’s in your budget, sign up for one of the credit and identity-theft monitoring services like IdentityForce to ensure you’re proactively monitoring your credit score. That way, you can aim to pay the least amount of interest on all of your future investments, saving you huge amounts in the long run.
For a deeper dive into credit, what the numbers mean, and where to monitor your numbers, check out our report on the Best Credit Report Site of 2020. If you’re interested in paid credit monitoring services that help guard against identity theft, be sure to read up on the Best Credit Monitoring Service for 2020.