Paid Vs. Free Credit Reports

Obtaining a mortgage (or a low interest rate) setting up utilities, getting car insurance and even a job can all be influenced by your credit score. And to make sure your score reflects an accurate portrait of your financial life, credit educators and advocates say it’s smart to check your credit score at least once a year.
“To best protect and monitor your credit history and information on your credit report, I suggest pulling one free copy of your credit report from one of the three bureaus every four months,” says Beverly Harzog, a credit expert and author of “Confessions of a Credit Junkie.”

But many wonder if the “free” credit reports paint the whole picture.

We’ve got the lowdown on how to get to the bottom of your credit report and know how to see your entire credit picture.

Credit Scores and Free Credit Reports

Your credit report is a complete record of your credit history as reported by your creditors and is available from a variety of sources. A credit report may be obtained from each of the three national credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) at no charge once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com, a site mandated by the government to allow consumers access to one annual credit report from each of the credit bureaus. You can also purchase a copy of your credit report, through the bureaus’ websites.

Just don’t expect to see your three-digit credit score. Credit scores are not part of credit reports and AnnualCreditReport.com does not offer credit scores.

“Credit scores are tools used by lenders and other businesses to analyze the information in the credit report in order to assess lending or business risk upon requesting the report, or after receiving the report. You can purchase a credit score from Experian when you request your free annual credit report for an additional fee of about $10 per report,” says Maxine Sweet, Experian’s vice president of public education.

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“Just having one report scored is well worth the investment because a score tells you where your history falls in the range of risk and what factors in your history most impacted that risk.  If you need better scores, those factors will guide you in how you need to change your credit behavior,” says Sweet.

Your Whole Credit Picture

There is no difference in terms of content between free credit reports and those you pay for, says Sweet. “The content of a credit report may be formatted differently, but there is no difference in the information if the report is obtained directly from the credit reporting company or provided by a third party credit monitoring service qualified to provide consumer disclosures.”

Consumers actually receive a bit more information than businesses when they request their credit report from the national credit reporting companies. Sweet says soft inquiries, which are when a consumer pulls their own report or a company does a promotional pull to offer a “pre-approved” credit option are not included on reports seen by lenders. “But these are shown on the consumer report so consumers have a complete record of who has requested their credit report.”

But the score may vary.

Essentially, a credit score is a statistical summary of the information in a credit report at the moment it is reviewed. “When a lender purchases a credit report, they choose which scoring model(s) they want applied to the report,” says Sweet.

And there are hundreds of different models with many different score ranges. “Even if the scoring model came from the same model development company such as FICO or VantageScore, one lender may use a different model than another. So consumers should not expect their credit scores to be the same from one lender to the next.”

Reporting a denial

If you’re denied credit, you’re entitled to a copy of your credit report and score thanks to the Dodd-Frank Act. This requires lenders provide consumers declined credit a notice that includes:

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  • The numerical credit score used in taking the adverse action.
  • The range of possible credit scores under the model used.
  • The factors that adversely affected the credit score, which should be ranked in the order of their importance and should not exceed four factors ( unless the number of credit inquiries is a factor and not already reflected in the top four, in which case, five factors must be disclosed).
  • The date the credit score was created.
  • The name of the reporting agency or person providing the score.
Sweet says the notice also must include instructions for requesting a free credit report from the credit reporting company used by the lender in making its decision. “That way a consumer can receive a current credit report, just as they would when they request a free annual credit report.” Still, don’t expect to get a free credit score with that free report. The score could change by the time the consumer receives it, or it may be generated using a different model.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a staff writer for SuperMoney. Her mission is to help fight your evil debt blob and get your personal finances in tip top shape.
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