The Associated Press

Add another Web site to the confusing array offering "free" information about your credit:

The Basics

Most consumers understand that your credit score is key to getting a mortgage, credit cards and other loans. But while companies that collect personal credit data are legally required to provide a free credit report each year, there's no requirement to provide a free credit score.

Enter Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The company behind, the site known for its singing spokesman, recently launched, which promises to provide a free score when you sign up for a 7-day trial period for its credit monitoring service. It's even holding a contest to find a new songster to pitch this site.

The service is $14.95 per month, and also provides access to your Experian credit report and periodic credit monitoring — which involves getting updates about credit activity in your name.

The Lowdown

Like its sister site, requires users to sign up for a trial membership for its service, including providing credit card information, before it provides any information for "free."

You'll be charged $14.95 if you don't cancel the service — which must be done by calling a toll-free number within nine days. The website makes it clear you won't be able to get a refund for any membership fees already charged when you cancel.

The price is on par with other services that provide credit monitoring, which can help detect identity theft.

The Catch

The credit score provided is a PLUS Score. Although it will indicate where your credit rating stands, it is not a FICO score, the type most often used by lenders. Both types of scores are based on the same information in your credit report, but the mathematical formulas used to create them are different.

Also, the service uses what the Better Business Bureau refers to as a "negative option," meaning that you have to cancel or you'll keep getting charged. Experian has been criticized by consumer advocates for using the same tactic on to sign up customers for its credit monitoring service.

The Alternative

Consumers can do a reasonable job of monitoring their credit without a paid service. Free credit reports are available from each of the major credit agencies on the government-sponsored website Place an order for a free report from one agency — Equifax and TransUnion are the other two — every four months, and you can do your own monitoring for free.

Right now, there is no way to get a FICO score for free unless you apply for a mortgage or home equity loan. If you do, the lender is required to provide the score it uses to make a decision on your application.

That may change if a provision in the Senate's version of financial reform that would require free annual score disclosure stays in the final bill. The House and Senate are currently hashing out what will stay in the legislation.

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