This is a guest post by Joshua Heckathorn, who runs Creditnet.com and holds an MBA and B.S. in Finance. Creditnet is a free resource for anyone who wants to learn more about credit or debt and compare hundreds of the best credit cards online. When Josh isn’t glued to the screen of his Mac, you’re bound to find him at the nearest rock-climbing wall or sushi joint around Seattle.
It’s been just over a month since new rules took effect requiring free credit report sites to prominently disclose that there’s only one place to truly get your credit report for free—AnnualCreditReport.com.
And as you might imagine, FreeCreditReport.com, the best-known site in the business, probably wasn’t too excited about the change. However, no one expected them to just curl up in a ball and go away for good. That’s certainly not their style. So, how did FreeCreditReport.com alter their advertising approach?
If you took a look at their website in early April, the first thing you would’ve noticed was a box on the homepage that described how new federal restrictions made it impossible to provide consumers with a “free” Experian credit report any longer. So, in order to get your Experian-based credit report, and free credit score (or FAKO score, that is), they would now charge a $1 fee for your credit report.
No more free credit reports from FreeCreditReport.com! The good news was that 100 percent of your buck would then be donated to Donorschoose.org, an online charity benefitting classrooms in need around the country. However, the bad news was that in reality not much had actually changed.
You pay a buck, which is then donated to charity, and in return you get a credit report, a “free” credit score, and the exact same 7-day trial membership in FreeCreditReport.com’s Triple Advantage credit-monitoring service. The fact remained that many consumers might still fall into the same old trap the new regulations were attempting to curtail. They would sign up, get their free stuff, forget about it, and then get whacked with a $14.95 monthly charge for a service they may not have wanted in the first place.
Now, a little over a month later, it appears FreeCreditReport.com has flip-flopped and decided to once again return to their original offer. No more $1 charge, donations, or anything sneaky. It looks just like the same old offer. However, it’ll be hard for anyone to get past the gargantuan warning that practically takes up half the homepage—”You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law. Take me to the authorized source.” Check it out—it’s definitely prominent!
I don’t know exactly what prompted the flip-flop so soon, but I’m sure the FTC didn’t appreciate FreeCreditReport.com’s attempt to skirt the new disclosure rules so easily. Or, perhaps consumers weren’t digging the whole $1 approach as much as expected? What do you think?
In the world of free credit reports, this serves as a great reminder that the best advice for consumers is to simply pay close attention to what companies are offering and to read the fine print of any deal. If it’s free, there’s likely a catch, and it’s up to you to be smart and play the game wisely.