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Where Credit Is Due

Kudos to my esteemed fellow editor Lisa Ocker for an important note in the Business 101 section of our May issue of SUCCESS, all about the pitfalls of obtaining a credit report online. (Read “Costly Consequences” on SUCCESS.com.)

But when I saw what she wrote, I had to ask Lisa, Where was this story last fall when I needed it!? For me, credit curiosity ended with an unexpected bill—a charge that would’ve become monthly had I not sniffed out the problem sooner.

In Lisa’s story, detailing the importance of checking our credit report for errors, which can be somewhat frequent according to a Federal Trade Commission study, she notes that consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year. If only I had known that I got a single yearly peek, I’d have $22 more to my name right now.

And $22 may not seem like much, but the prospect of $22 accruing monthly over the course of a year is certainly something I wanted to avoid. So, after one full month of membership at the supposedly “free” credit score site—you know the one that advertises itself with the singing guys in pirate hats—when I noticed the first charge, I was quick to call up and cancel my membership.

“May I ask what is the cause of your cancellation?” is a polite question I assume the customer service rep on the other side of the phone must have to ask everyone after a month or two. “Well,” I told her, “I thought free meant free, but it apparently doesn’t. I checked my credit report in December, it was good, then I wondered how much better it had gotten by February, so I checked again.”

For me, it wasn’t $22 worth of curiosity each month. Of course, I’m a long way from trying to finance a mortgage or take out a small-business loan or even buy a car. Now that I’ve learned the reality of online credit checks the hard way, I’ll stick to a site like AnnualCreditReport.com when the urge strikes me again.

The moral, I guess, is to always read the fine print. And if you don’t, make sure to check your bank statement.

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