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Are providers of free credit reports and scores trustworthy? Yes. While some providers of free credit reports or free credit scores are legitimate, there are a few things to know:
- Consider the information you’re providing, and who they might sell it to
- Avoid sites that want a credit card before giving you “free” information
- Be aware that some scores provided aren’t the same ones used by lenders, employers or insurers
One way to get free credit reports is to apply for credit. Companies like Discover offer free credit reports to card applicants. And the Discover FICO score is more commonly used than some other scores like Vantage.
Free credit reports
Free credit reports are available all over the Internet, but did you ever wonder if they’re really free? And no less important, are they any good when it comes to mortgage financing?
We live in a data-driven economy. Every site you visit, every link you click, is recorded somewhere. Your profile and mine include thousands of data points, little hints regarding what we like and don’t like, what we might buy and which political candidates we like or not.
Credit reports are part of the data economy. They reflect how you spend your money and how you use credit. Your credit score is derived from credit report information.
There are three basic ways to get free credit reports.
How to get free credit reports
The offer of a free credit report might be tied to the sale of other products and services. “Yes, we’ll give you a free credit report if only you’ll buy a side of beef and a set of truck tires. Click here….”
Well, okay, not so blatant but you get the idea. That “free” credit report is not so free. Red flags should go off if you’re asked for a credit card number.
A “free” credit report is a bright and shiny thing to attract your attention. Some providers require you to sign up for credit monitoring in exchange for the credit report. Others want you to provide contact information so that their partners can send you offers or advertising.
If you want a truly free credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. Under federal rules, you can get one free credit report from the three leading credit reporting agencies (CRAs) – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — each year. You can get three all together, or you can space out your requests over time.
How to use free credit reports
The reason to look at credit reports is to make sure they’re accurate. Look for outdated negative items. This might be information over seven years old, 10 years for Chapter 7 bankruptcies, and possibly longer for judgments.
Check the administrative information. Is the Social Security number right? How about addresses and dates? Are any items for credit events that don’t involve you? If you find a problem, contact the credit reporting agency immediately.
Can we trust the free credit reports found online? If we define the term “trust” to mean current and accurate, reports from AnnualCreditReport.com get a thumbs up. Free reports can help us find incorrect and outdated information. They can also help us spot identity fraud.
Both credit reports and credit scores come from your credit history. Think of credit reports as a big pile of receipts. Credit scores organize the information found in credit reports and tell us what us what it means.
In the same way that there are different credit report providers, there are also different credit score developers.
Mortgage lenders draw FICO credit scores based on credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Since the reports differ, the credit reports also vary. Lenders use the “representative” score to make decisions.
When they pull three bureaus, lenders use the middle score to qualify borrowers. If the scores are 714, 690 and 731 the 714 score will apply. If they only pull two bureaus, the lower score is the “representative” credit score.
Why FICO? The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) says all mortgages sold as of this writing to Fannie Mae and Freddie must include a FICO-brand credit score. FICO was developed by credit score pioneer Fair Isaac Corp.
Lenders generally – but not always – want loans which qualify for resale to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For that reason, FICO scores dominate the mortgage credit field.
There is, in addition, the Vantage system developed by the three leading credit report agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Vantage wants its credit scores accepted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHFA said it’s considering several credit scoring options, but as of early 2018 had “not determined which credit score option should be adopted as a replacement.”
Online credit score options
There is now a battle over credit score turf and territory. You can get free credit scores online. For example, Discover offers free FICO scores, noting that “you don’t have to be our customer and there’s no ding to your credit.” CreditKarma offers free Vantage credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion.
The scores you find online are considered “educational” and are not the scores most mortgage lenders use. In fact, there are over 40 different FICO scores used in different industries.
Still – and you can trust this – free credit scores can give a good sense of your credit standing. They’re a good way to monitor credit usage and alert you if anything suddenly changes.