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End of the 'free' credit report

By Ben Tinker

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Many of the changes put into place by the Credit Card Act of 2009 went into effect back in February; one part of the legislation will go into effect April 2.

Companies that claim to offer you a free credit report as a means of luring you into buying a subscription service now have to disclose that what they're offering isn't really free.

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Disclosure rules for TV and radio ads won't take effect until September however. The rule that kicks in April 1 only requires prominent disclosures online. Web sites that advertise free credit reports but require consumers to sign up for monthly credit monitoring subscriptions, or other services in exchange for the report,will have to change their tune.

Consumers often get confused between these "free" offers that come with strings attached and the government's annualcreditreport.com where you can really get one free credit report per year with no strings attached.

Under the new rules, any Web site advertising free credit reports must include a disclosure notice across the top of each page that mentions the free report, stating "The notice is required by law and you can read more at FTC.gov. Also: You have the right to a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com, or by calling 877-322-8228, the only authorized source under federal law."

How to improve your credit score

For the best credit score, only charge 10% of your available credit limit or less each month. It is a good idea to use your credit card each month but only below this 10% limit.

Use online banking tools to keep a close eye on your account. Many card issuers and banks have text, e-mail and other types of alerts to keep you on track.

Take the time to open every single piece of mail you receive from your credit card company. Focus on the fine print; this is where the pesky details about any changes to your account are usually hidden.

Last but not least -- remember that your credit impacts every part of your life, including your ability to get a loan, a car, a cell phone, even insurance, at an affordable price.

So this is something you really want to stay on top of, year-round.

Remember, under U.S. law you're entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union, at annualcreditreport.com.

Talkback: Have you ever signed up for a free credit report? To top of page

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