As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more! No Longer Offers “Free” Credit Reports

This article was written by in Consumer, Credit. 10 comments.

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 required the Federal Trade Commission to regulate marketing surrounding products offered by the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion). Starting this month, offers like must be transparent about their offers when they are tied to “free trials.”

It’s easy for us to single out Experian’s because not only have they produced the most familiar advertising, with catchy jingles promoting a product that requires enrollment in an expensive and usually unnecessary service, but also because the FTC has used them as an example. Here is the official opinion from the FTC:

… [S]ince issuance of the original Rule [designating as the official centralized location for customers to receive an annual credit report from each of the three bureaus], there has been a proliferation of confusing advertising regarding where consumers can obtain their free annual file disclosures. Some nationwide CRAs and others have advertised “free credit reports” in connection with the purchase of products and services, such as credit scores and credit monitoring. Although some advertising predated the original Rule, the bulk of the advertising for “free credit reports” now takes advantage of consumers’ general knowledge that free annual file disclosures are available under federal law. These advertisements direct consumers not to, the authorized source for free annual file disclosures, but to commercial websites operated by nationwide CRAs or others that sell a variety of products and services. Further, when a consumer uses an Internet search engine to locate the website for free annual file disclosures, the search engine will usually list “sponsored” links — again, selling products and services — such as “” first.

As a result of this advertising, consumers are often misled and
confused about where to obtain the free annual file disclosure mandated by federal law. Indeed, the Commission has received numerous consumer complaints demonstrating confusion and frustration about how and where to obtain a free annual file disclosure. As discussed below, comments received during this proceeding further illustrate both consumer confusion with and frustration in obtaining “free annual file disclosures” and “free credit reports.”

Experian’s now does a better job of warning customers that obtaining a credit report through this commercial website requires enrollment in a service that costs $14.95 monthly. While the company is offering a “trial” of this program, if you don’t cancel within 7 days, you will be charged the first fee. In fact, if you look at the fine print, you have have less than 7 days after you receive your credit report.

Another major change is the program itself: no longer offers free credit reports. Presumably skirting some of the requirements of the new law, the website now offers these formerly free credit reports for sale for $1.

Whether the free trial period for a product is the original 30 days offered years ago or the more recent 7 days, customers should be fully informed from the start and should not have to face unreasonable obstacles when attempting to cancel membership. Some responsibility obviously rests on the consumer to fully research any product before providing personal information like Social Security Numbers and credit card numbers, and this is doubly so for any product advertised as “free.”

Customers should also be able to expect companies to advertise using statements that aren’t misleading and to be able to cancel any membership, whether in “trial” or “full” status, without much hassle. I’ve read many reports of customers working for months to cancel these memberships, with customer service representatives being unhelpful or willfully lying to those customers. If a representative from a company tells me my membership is canceled effective immediately, I would expect to see no further charges.

Free Annual File Disclosures; Final Rule [pdf], Federal Trade Commission, March 3, 2010

Updated June 24, 2016 and originally published April 5, 2010.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Aww…does this mean no more catchy jingles and pirate hats?

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avatar 2 Luke Landes

It may take some time, but I expect there will be changes to those ads…

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avatar 3 Anonymous

If we’re lucky they’ll design a jingle around the disclaimers.
We’ll charge large fees with aplomb
The feds think they’ll win
But you’re hooked on our songs

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avatar 4 Anonymous

LMAO! Good job Tom. You should totally pitch that to them.

But seriously, it was inevitable but I hate how they skirt around the new laws like that.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

The morons in the pirate hats (AND Ben Stein, who I used to respect), are
simply designated liars for the credit bureaus….

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avatar 6 Anonymous

Thank goodness. People are too fixated on credit reports and obtaining credit.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Credit is important, but the amount of money that’s been invested in advertising the products makes it really difficult for people to decide what’s right for them.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

i cancelled free right when i checked into it just found out they took money out of my account!

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avatar 9 Anonymous

I just been ripped off by I thought I was buying a trial for a dollar and then I check my account and they’ve taken an additional 29.95 from my acct and is saying I can only get half of it back. I am so pissed off. What can we do?

I wouldn’t advise anyone to use this service becasue they will ripp u off. Anyone come up with any ideas to stop from ripping people like us off, let me know I’m in.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Darlene b, Its not the companies fault people keep trying them out and getting scammed.

People have a choice weather to say yes or no to something.

And people who dont know that the company is a scam by now are basically the ones who are at fault because they do not read the small print.

And also, this company has been around for years, So most people who use the internet should already know that this company is not free. If they dont know if its free or not, they should of read reviews first about it before creating an account.

Dont blame the company, Blame those who do things without knowing anything and not looking into it before doing it.

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