Credit reports are important because they contain the data that makes up your credit score. But the credit score is really where it's at. That's because, as I'm sure most of you know, lenders, insurers, landlords and quite possibly even employers use these scores to determine whether you're a risky personality. So the difference between a high credit score and low credit score matters.

It is every consumer's right to ask for a free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus (named Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). There is one, I repeat, ONE official place to get one your report:

I think everyone should jump through this hoop at least once per year. Or you could space out your requests and monitor your credit three times per year by ordering one report from each bureau every four months using the site mentioned above.

Thing is, credit reports are free by law, but credit scores tend to cost around $15.

Now, there are two ways to get a pretty good sense of your credit score for free.

First, will give you an actual credit score. I have checked my score a couple of times through this site and have found it to be accurate.

On Tuesday, is releasing a new credit report card feature. According to the release:

The Credit Report Card is a completely free tool that gives you an accurate, real-time view into your credit report with grades and actionable feedback in each of the five main areas that make up your credit ratings.

My report card gave me A+ ratings in every category, but only gave me a broad range of what my credit score could be.

Both companies claim they're doing it to help Americans become more financially literate, informed consumers. But watch out for the upsell and the ads.

I've tried out both services and am not concerned about security or damaging my credit score. These services have security measures similar to your other online financial transactions. They won't harm your credit score because they are considered "soft inquiries."

What did FICO, the original credit score creator, have to say about these services?

Everybody ,including your Aunt Tillie, can provide you general direction about how your credit history is likely to influence lenders.

That's FICO spokesman Craig Watts. He says that if you're curious about your score, these sites are OK. BUT:

If you're preparing to apply for some big ticket credit item or get out of a hole, you want to see the same information the lender is looking at.

Ask your lender which credit bureau he or she works with. Many pull the credit scores from all three bureaus and average them.