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It's no secret that you can view your credit score for free online by using sites like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. What most people question is how these sites work. What 's behind totally free credit scores? How do free credit reporting sites make money? If these sites are free, are the credit scores in them legitimate? All of these questions and more will be answered in the following analysis.
Here is an inside look at the business model behind free credit score sites so you can feel more confident in using one.
Most websites that offer free services get money through the advertisements and links on their sites. This applies to YouTube and Travelocity just as much as it applies anywhere else. In this case, credit reporting sites will often make money through promotional offers that they give, for free, to those who sign up. For instance, you may register for Credit Karma and then learn about a credit card that will save you X amount of money per year. If you sign up for that card, Credit Karma will get paid a commission for the advertisement.
Some sites only get paid when you sign up for these kinds of promotions. Others get paid to have advertisements on their sites as a whole. This is similar to how a phone book or billboard company makes money. They have traffic coming in, and companies want to use that traffic to get their name out. In a related fashion, some sites will get paid every time someone clicks on an ad or link on their site. The commission they make from this is less than the commission they make from a signup, but it easier to come by. If you have ever seen a site with Google Adsense on the side (usually with a blue triangle on the image), you've witnessed pay per click advertising in action.
Some credit score sites offer credit monitoring after a free trial period. This is usually the case with those requiring a credit card for registration, like FreeCreditScore.com or IdentityGuard.com. Sure, you can get your scores for free with these sites, but we can't say they're "totally free" like the ones mentioned above. Eventually, your free trial will run out, and you'll be wrapped up in a $15 a month credit monitoring program you probably didn't want. Granted, it's not a bad idea to have a site watching over your credit for you, but you may not want that when you sign up to see your score.
If you want to use a site like this without registering for credit monitoring, cancel your subscription after a couple days. This will make the cancellation look legitimate. You don't have to wait at all, but some support teams will drill you with questions if you cancel right after registration. It's up to you if you want to go through with that.
When you sign up for a site along these lines, make sure you watch for cancellation fees. In some cases, you might be locked into a contract that you just can't escape. The site will charge your credit card for a certain percentage of the contract when you cancel, or they'll charge you a flat fee. If you're not careful, you could end up paying a lot of money for your supposedly "free" credit score.
Are Free Credit Scores Reliable?
Now that you know what's behind totally free credit scores, you're probably wondering whether or not you can trust them. If you work with a well-reviewed site like the ones we promote around here, you don't have anything to worry about. There are some sites out there that will essentially make up credit scores to make you scared, only to offer you credit repair services that will "fix" your problems. You don't have to be concerned about those if you follow our links.
Every person is allowed one free credit report a year from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Legitimate sites will access these reports and present all of the information from them before you. You could actually reach out to the bureaus and get this information on your own, but that would be less convenient than using a site like Credit Karma. Plus, you might only get to see your credit history, not necessarily your score. No matter what though, you can trust the fact that good credit score sites do provide legitimate, up-to-date numbers for your reference.
No matter what your reason is for checking your credit score, you can do so for free online. Sites have ways to go about making money without getting it from the user. Just make sure you know what the terms are for a site you are about to use, especially if it requires a credit card for registration. The last thing you need is a new bill that you knew nothing about. As long as you know what you're getting into before you sign up for a score, you should be good to go.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.