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CONSUMER ALERT

The difference between credit scores and credit reports

Q. My question is about the free credit score ­reports. You said that you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com for a free report. I went to that site, and after reluctantly completing the confidential information, I hit continue. The next thing to happen is that site says your scores are ready for viewing. Then it asks for a $1 refundable fee on my debit or credit card. Then in fine print it says once I agree, I agree to a monthly charge of $29.95 to be charged on my card until I call to have it stopped. Where is the totally free site that you give your information and you are shown your scores right away? Or are all these sites a scam for enrollment?

A.AnnualCreditReport.com is the correct site. Everyone is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You can order all three at once on the site or get one every four months so you can try to pick up any questionable activity on your credit report more quickly.

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However, you are not entitled to a free credit score. It can be confusing when you’re looking for your free credit report and a link appears at the top that asks if you want your “Free Credit Score.” As you noticed, free isn’t exactly free in that case. For the “free” credit score, free means you can see it all you want after you have agreed to pay a monthly subscription to a credit monitoring service.

Credit scores are different from credit reports. A credit score is built from your credit report — allowing a lender to view how creditworthy you are. The higher the score, the more likely you will get a loan, and get it with favorable terms. The credit report shows how much credit you have and have had and whether you pay bills on time.

If you are interested in your score on the most widely used credit scale, you can buy yours directly from Fair Isaac Corp. — at the MyFico.com website — for less than $20. You can also see alternate versions of your score free on sites such as CreditKarma.com.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers for two decades. He also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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