March 23rd, 2008
So you are probably thinking, when is she going to start giving us some real tips on how to save money without wasting time?
We’re starting right now.
Going back to our theme of credit cards, just an update: so far, so good. We are living just fine without them. The guy at the grocery store must have thought I was a little dumb though, because I kept trying to sign my receipt when I paid with a debit card. It’s going to take a little getting used to.
Whether or not you have (or have had) a credit card, it’s still a good idea to take a look at your credit history to make sure there is no funny stuff going on.
By federal law, you can check each of the three credit reporting bureaus once per year for free. So if you check one every 4 months, you have a reasonable chance of catching any mistakes.
The problem is, there are all sorts of ads on TV about checking your credit score, use this website or that, and it will be free. Then you get to the site and surprise! It’s no longer free. What the heck?
The sneakiest thing about a majority of the ads that you see is that the most heavily advertised “free” credit services are being sold by the credit reporting bureaus themselves! Thus, the same folks required by law to give you your information for free are trying to entice you to pay for it. It’s kind of like going to a “free” event where at the entrance they have a “suggested donation” of $20.
Figuring out who is legit, who are scammers, and who will make you pay to see something that you can get for free is a pain in the butt. It gets to be so annoying that we give up and go do something else and never get around to checking our info.
The only truly free web site for obtaining your credit report is www.annualcreditreport.com.
It has links to all three credit bureaus, which you can access one at a time and see your credit history with each for free.
However, the most elusive, yet important data, your “Credit Score”, alas, is not available for free without strings.
With each reporting bureau, you have to pay to find out the information that is being used to judge you for everything from a mortgage rate to auto insurance premiums. Sick, isn’t it?
The one best known and most used is your FICO score, available at www.myfico.com. You can get a 30-day free trial to take a peek at it. If you don’t cancel, its $90 per year for the pleasure of having 24-hour access to your credit score. This can be worth it if you are thinking of buying a house, a new car, or changing insurance companies in the near future.
Otherwise, if you don’t like “free but if you forget you have to pay” offers, your other option is to use a free “estimator” on a website like www.credit.com or www.bankrate.com. This won’t give you your exact score, but will get you in the ballpark. Then you can decide if it’s worth paying for the FICO service or not.
Copyright 2008-2009 Kristin Delfau, author of Turbo-Mom's Guide to Saving Money Without Wasting Time a womens' personal finance book, and Aji Publishing.