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Free Credit Report? Not So Fast, Ben Stein

Shame on Ben Stein. A Columbia University-trained economist and Yale law grad with a career that has included gigs as a Federal Trade Commission lawyer, an actor, a quiz-show host, New York Times columnist and CBS Sunday Morning commentator, is now promoting a bait-and-switch deal from a website called His co-star, Filbert the Credit Squirrel, also has "extensive training in both Economics and Finance," according to the website. So shame on you too, Filbert.

Stein (and the squirrel) promise that the website will, at no charge, provide you with reports from each of the three major credit bureaus along with credit scores developed from their information. But if Stein and Filbert are as smart as they claim, they know that any consumer can get credit reports absolutely free from a government-sponsored site called

Given their backgrounds, Stein and the squirrel must also know that is luring you to pay for what it gave you for free, which is not nice at all. First, when you go to the site, you have to lay down $1. That entitles you to your scores and credit reports and a 7-day trial membership. If you don't cancel before time's up--and who remembers to cancel on time? -- then you get hit with a $29.95 monthly membership fee which is automatically charged to your credit card every month you don't opt out.

Now nobody is gonna get rich by saving a dollar, but what do you get for that $29.95 monthly fee? The answer is: Not a whole helluva a lot. First, you get anytime access to the reports and scores you already saw for a mingy buck. Second, the company sends you alerts when "there's a critical change in your credit profile that could impact your credit score." As Ben and Filbert know, unless you are hunting for a loan, there's no reason to know about every little twiddle in your credit score. Seriously, it's like going on a diet and then weighing yourself every hour to see if there's been a change. What else? You get toll-free access to the site's customer service team -- whoopie! There's some other stuff you probably don't need either, including --and, this is my favorite -- access to your free annual Social Security Report. I mean, Ben, Filbert, you know that the government mails that to you without your even asking.

Now it really bugs me to pay for stuff I would ordinarily get for free, especially when it's stuff I should OWN, like my own financial information. If you feel as I do, get your credit reports from If you absolutely positively need your credit score, then feed the data into the FICO Estimator at the webiste of Fair Isaac, the company that invented the credit score. The number should be close enough to tell you what you need to know.

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