Get Your Free Credit Score (here's how...)

Category: Finance

Your credit score is just a three-digit number, but it is one of the most important numbers in your financial life. This one number summarizes your creditworthiness, and it's the first thing lenders look at when you apply for a loan, and often the last. Learn how a credit SCORE is different from a credit REPORT, and find out how to get your credit score, for free…

Yes, You Can Get Your Credit Score for Free

Your credit score is a number ranging from 300-850, with lower numbers representing a "poor credit risk" and higher ones indicating an "excellent credit risk." Your credit score can make a difference of several hundred dollars a month in your mortgage or car payment. I was reminded of that recently when refinancing my mortgage.

You may even be unable to get credit at all if your credit score is terrible. But do you know what your credit score is right now?

Most people don't know their credit scores. They may know what it was the last time they applied for a loan, but it most likely has changed since then. Perhaps your own credit activity (newly opened accounts, high balances, missed payments) triggered a change in your credit score. But identity theft is a growing problem, and ID thieves may be ruining your credit score without your knowledge. (See my related article Ten Identity Theft Protection Tips.)

It's a good idea to monitor your credit score regularly to be on the lookout for changes that require investigation. Just checking your score will not affect your rating, but it can be costly to monitor your credit score. Fortunately, if you know where to look, you can find out your credit score for free.

Free Credit Score

Free Credit Score... With Strings Attached

Yes, there lots of places online that offer a "free credit score" with strings attached. You'll have to fork over a credit card number for a trial subscription to an ongoing credit monitoring service. Some don’t even throw you the free trial bone. MyFICO.com will tell you your credit score as reported by the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and Transunion – if you sign up for a credit monitoring service that costs from $20 to $40 a month. (myFICO is the consumer division of FICO, the company that invented the FICO credit score.)

TIP: Don't confuse your Credit SCORE with your Credit REPORT. Here's info on how to get a Free Credit Report, without getting ripped off.

Wait, scores, plural? Yes, consumers have at least THREE credit scores -- one from each of the aforementioned credit reporting agencies. These "FICO scores" are the numbers that most lenders use when deciding whether to offer a loan. Each of the major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) use a proprietary scoring method developed and licensed by the Fair Isaac Corporation to calculate your FICO credit score. Usually they're all pretty close. But incorrect, inconsistent, or missing information in your credit files can cause them to differ.

Firms that offer credit monitoring services are required by law to let you cancel a subscription without penalty during a trial period, which can range from only 7 to a more reasonable 30 days. But many people forget to cancel and get locked into contracts that can cost from $5 a month to over $400 a year. If you are diligent and highly organized, this might be a good way to get your credit score for free. But if you flirt with the bait regularly, the odds are that one day you will get hooked too.

If you're merely curious and you want just an estimate of your FICO credit score, MyFICO offers a free Credit Score Estimator. The estimator asks you ten questions about your finances and provides you with a range in which they think your score will fall. The nice thing about this tool is that no credit card is required, and you don't have to cough up any personally identifying information. The downside is that it could be way off, and banks will only use the actual FICO score when making lending decisions.

Many banks and major retailers offer ongoing credit score reporting and monitoring as part of their services. Credit unions and credit card providers may have similar perks. If you are shopping for a new bank or credit card, try to negotiate free credit score monitoring as part of any package you hope to put together.

But don't kid yourself. Whoever gives you a credit score is paying something to the Big Three for it. You're probably paying for it somewhere among all the other charges you get from any service provider.

A Truly FREE Credit Score?

There are a few exceptions that I have found: Credit Karma is advertiser-supported, so you will be presented with offers from credit card companies and other lenders after you give your personal information, in exchange for your Equifax and TransUnion credit scores. But you won't have to cough up a credit card number or commit to a subscription service. You will have to provide your birthdate and the last 4 digits of your social security number, to verify your identity. Credit Karma has an excellent rating with the BBB, and they're been around for several years, so I feel comfortable recommending this service.

Credit Karma shows your credit scores calculated using VantageScore 3.0. It’s free and there’s no impact to your credit. VantageScore was created by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and is supposed to provide better scoring consistency across the three bureaus. VantageScore take into account up to 24 months of your payment history, how long you’ve had credit, the types of credit you have (credit cards, auto loans, student loans, mortgages, etc.), your credit limits and how much of those limits you’re using.

NerdWallet also provides the TransUnion VantageScore for free. Their credit score simulator helps you see how certain actions can mean big point changes in your credit score. NerdWallet recommends that you use less than 30% of your credit limit on any card. The best scores go to people using 10% or less of their credit limit. You may bump up your credit score by raising the limits on your cards, or by extending your streak of on-time payments.

Another free option is Credit Sesame, which provides your TransUnion credit score and an overview of your credit and debt situation. Credit Sesame uses a patented "bank-level analytics engine", which continually analyzes the lending markets, in search of ways for you to save money on loans, credit card debts and your home mortgage. No credit card is required to use the Credit Sesame service.

What Goes Into a Credit Score?

CreditKarma, NerdWallet and CreditSesame all use VantageScore 3.0 to calculate your credit score. However, most banks and other lenders make their decisions using the FICO model. But chances are good that if you have a good VantageScore, you will also have a good FICO score. That’s because both of them use similar methodologies for calculating your credit score. Factors that are important in determining your credit score include the following:

  • On-time Payment History: Missed payments or accounts sent to collections will bring down your score.
  • Credit Balances: Lenders prefer a low ratio of debt to available credit
  • Recent Applications: If you've applied for a lot of credit recently, that’s a potential red flag.
  • Credit History: The longer your credit history, the better for your credit score.
  • Credit Mix: Lenders like to see that you are managing a wide range of credit products, such as car loans, credit cards, student loans, mortgage, etc.

Got something to say about getting your free credit score? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Get Your Free Credit Score (here's how...)"

Posted by:

Ivan White
07 Dec 2020

I agree and I had to learn the hard way. Your credit score is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to credit. For the most part unless the bank has a lot of trust in you anything under 720 is not credit worthiness. Luckily mine is now much higher than that. So keep your credit score as high as you can, it will help you in the long run, especially if you need a new home, a car or something else, for without a good score, you can not get what you maybe wish or need.


Posted by:

Laurie
07 Dec 2020

Regarding your FICO score from each bureau, you have several of those, as well. There are numerous FICO scoring models. A lender may pull FICO 8 or FICO 9, for example. Some FICO scoring models are specific to certain industries.

Vantage 3.0 tracking is free, but lenders don’t use Vantage scores when making decisions. They use one of the FICO scores. So, tracking your Vantage scores can be helpful in seeing your trends, but the numbers won’t match your FICO score used by a lender. It may vary by more than you’d expect. So, use Vantage tracking to see your trends, but not your scores as lenders would see them.

On a related note, freeze your credit files. It’s free to do Unfreezing and refereeing is quick and easy, as well.


Posted by:

SharonH
07 Dec 2020

Laurie is right. Car dealerships use a proprietary score when someone applies for financing.


Posted by:

Sarah L
07 Dec 2020

The place once called Quizzle, which I tried from an earlier post from you, Bob, on this topic, is now called Bankrate. It has been communicating my Credit score to me, along with other useful information on interest rates at banks across the US, online or with physical facilities. It seems to be associated with Lending Tree, as I receive e-mails from both places. The link to Bank Rate's web page is https://www.bankrate.com/


Posted by:

SamG
07 Dec 2020

Ahhh, the credit score roulette game. 9 years 9 months ago I retired and filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy due to a timeshare scam. My bank uses a different credit score determination. Higher than Credit Karma score. No matter what I do financially,(car loan,no mortgage)my credit score remains the same. Even after Equifax was hacked and my credit card info stolen twice. So after 10 years since bankruptcy is up in February it'll be interesting to see what my credit score does when that black mark is removed. By the way, my bank cards are inactive, and my credit frozen.


Posted by:

top squirrel
07 Dec 2020

I had a problem with a medical bill--I refused to pay until they corrected the chart. They told me pay or we'll ruin your credit. They probably have but I don't care much since I pay cash for everything.
Since the bad entries are over 7 years old, I think the law says I can have them removed.
But step one is finding out what adverse entries they have and for that they ask for information that they do not have (like a SSN, in whole or part). I have no credit items, adverse or not, for the last 8 years.
My problem is, how can I get report details to challenge the old entries without disclosing information I do not want the CB to have? I have never had credit cards and I've never borrowed money. But I won't pay until the other side meets their obligations. Like instead of correcting their Notes, doctors misquote me (on things only I would know), state diagnoses without evidentiary support, carry forward false diagnoses from previous providers, falsify the record, make vindictive personal remarks, and severely limit the space they allow me to correct things and bury my corrections to where nobody will see them.
Advice welcome.
(Hard to believe? Demand a full copy of provider Notes and read it all carefully. (Complete copy, not the portion they offer you as "My Chart.") I have been doing that for 50 years as an adult and virtually none of them is free of significant error. They just don't like to admit their Notes need correction.)


Posted by:

Kenny
08 Dec 2020

If you have a Discover card, your FICO score is printed on your bill. No charge. If you have a Chase credit card and pay online, there is a link to get your free FICO score.


Posted by:

Chris
08 Dec 2020

Follow up to Kenny's post. Discover credit cards have no fee.


Posted by:

Jerry Owen
08 Dec 2020

Not mentioned in the article or comments is that lenders are not the only ones who use this information. Many landlords want this information before they will let you rent a place to live. Insurance companies want this to help determine your rate. Potential employers want this when considering you for a job. I think this information is none of their business. I can understand a landlord might want to know if you are a good risk but all they need is whether or not you have a good payment history. They do not need to know where you may have or have had credit. Employers don't need any of this information. Some banks even use this when you want to open an account (not a loan). Everyone wants your SSN. It states quite clearly that the SSN is not to be used for identification but that has become the primary means of ID these days (and has been for a long time).


Posted by:

Shirley
09 Dec 2020

Just want to say, unsolicited and un-paid-for, that your site is one of the best things on the internet. If I read advice here I trust it. I've been a subscriber for almost as long as I've been online. So use this comment any way you want.

Shirley in Canada


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