Reader Bryce wrote to us this week with this question for the readers: “What are your thoughts on companies like freecreditreport.com, where they charge $16.95/month to have access to your Experian credit report? Is checking your credit weekly/monthly worth the $16.95/month?”

First of all, you are legally entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the main credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can get them via the government’s official site, annualcreditreport.com. If you get one every four months, you are effectively monitoring your own report for free.

In most cases, you will have to pay for your credit score. It costs around $12.95. There are several instances when you can get a free credit score, thanks to the Dodd-Frank Act (on page 13 of this PDF). These cases are due to “adverse actions”:

  • When you’ve been denied credit
  • When you’ve been denied insurance
  • When you’re required to pay a higher deposit (such as for a utility company)
  • When you have to pay a higher interest rate
  • When you’re required to have a co-signer on a loan

If one of these actions happens to you when you apply for credit or insurance, the lender is required to tell you what credit score they were using.

Everyone should check their credit report regularly. It’s a good way to monitor for identity theft and to be sure there is no erroneous information on your report that could impact your credit score. If you do find false information, you can dispute it online with the credit bureau. Whichever credit bureau you file your dispute with must share that information with the other two.

As for paying a monthly fee to monitor your credit report, I’m in the camp that says it’s not worth your money. However, some personal finance experts believe there are benefits to paying. Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, “The Money Coach,” who writes about credit for AARP.org, is a proponent of credit monitoring. Here are her reasons: Credit monitoring is a credit education tool, it can save you money by helping you raise your credit score, and it can help prevent identity theft or at least alert you to a problem early.

Certainly if you know you’re going to be applying for a mortgage in the coming year, you should be monitoring your credit in order to boost that score so you get the best mortgage rate.

Back to Bryce’s original question about freecreditreport.com and other similar outfits: Several years ago, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on these organizations after consumers complained about being enrolled in a membership program that wasn’t clearly disclosed. If you look at the freecreditreport.com website now, you’ll see at the top of the page disclosure that explains exactly what you’re signing up for.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
When you order your $3.99 Credit Report and Score here, you will begin your 7-day trial membership in freecreditreport.com. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period*, you will be billed $19.99 for each month that you continue your membership. You may cancel your trial membership anytime within the trial period without charge.

Other online services, such as CreditSesame.com and CreditKarma.com, are free. CreditSesame.com monitors your credit information from Experian; CreditKarma.com uses TransUnion data. They use this data to create an estimate of your credit score. The scores they provide are not FICO scores, but users say they’re pretty close to the FICO three-digit number.

So, readers, what do you think of these credit monitoring programs? Are they worth the money? Can you get the same result using a free service? For those who refuse to use loans, are you at all concerned about maintaining a good credit score? Tell us your experience with credit monitoring programs and help Bryce make his decision.

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