The three national credit bureaus provide access to two basic kinds of products, one-off credit reports or credit scores- and value subscription packages.
While it used to be true that the one-off reports were all you really needed, this is becoming less and less true with the prevalence of ID theft and fraud. Most good value subscription packages from the main bureaus include services that monitor the credit reports for suspect changes, or deviations from the norm and flag potential problems to you immediately. They also often include protection for the whole family within the single subscription.
What Kinds of Free Credit Reports are there?
Two kinds. The first is the Annual Credit Report, the second are Free Credit Report trials of the Credit Bureaus' ongoing services, which are not always available. We explain these below:
Annual Credit Reports
These are provided by the US Government. Essentially, the three US Credit Agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) have to each provide all American citizens of age with one free credit report per year as part of their license agreement with the government. These reports are obtained directly from the through a dedicated website (see link above). If you know nothing about your credit score and report, then get onto this straight away- it's free.
Free Credit Report Trials
Each of the 3 credit bureaus provide one-off and ongoing access to your credit reports, credit scores, multi-bureau credit reports, and Identitiy Theft Protection packages. From time to time, the bureaus offer free trials of one of more of these services.