Here's How to Get Your Free Credit Score

Category: Finance

Your credit score is just a 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...

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.

Free Credit Score

(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... With Strings Attached

Yes, there lots of places online that offer a "free credit score" - one time, with strings attached. You'll have to fork over a credit card number for a trial subscription to an ongoing credit monitoring service., as well as the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) all offer this type of credit monitoring service as an incentive to give you access to your credit scores.

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. But beware... the one-time free credit score is just the bait on a hook...

Firms that make such offers 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 $100 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 credit score. But you won't have to cough up a credit card number or commit to a subscription service. You will have to provide 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 scores from Equifax and TransUnion, 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 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 Experian 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.

Finally, there's Quizzle, which pulls your credit information from TransUnion. Quizzle lets you check your credit score every month, and offers tools to help you manage credit cards, as well as auto, student and home loans. No credit card is required to give it a test drive.

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

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Most recent comments on "Here's How to Get Your Free Credit Score"

Posted by:

Linda Segall
05 Sep 2019

My bank (Wells Fargo) and credit card companies each provide a weekly update to my credit score--real numbers, no cost. My husband and I find it interesting that we have different credit scores, although we are retired and have been married for 15 years. I suppose they are based on the income allocated to each of us, which is different.

Posted by:

J Stuart Wells
05 Sep 2019

I have used Credit Karma for several years and am quite satisfied with it. They are not high pressure sales and they notify me any time my score is changed. However, I cannot figure out why my wife's score is different from mine.

Posted by:

05 Sep 2019

My Discover card account provides a free link to show my credit score. Very handy!

Posted by:

05 Sep 2019

One of my banks supplies me a monthly FICO model 9 score from Experian. Another resource provides me a monthly FICO model 8 score from Experian.

Aside from each bureau holding FICO scores for you, there is also more than one version of FICO score. These different versions not only use different algorithms, but some versions are preferentially used by some industries over others. There are also industry specific FICO scores, such as FICO Auto.

I use Credit Karma for Vantage 3 scores from Trams Union and Equifax.

Aside from the big three credit bureaus, there are other credit bureaus, as well. These might be used by employers, landlords, credit card lenders and more, often in conjunction with data from one of the big three.

All in all, there are a lot of credit scores available for use by lenders.

As for differences between spouse’s credit scores, this is usually the case. Credit score are specifically tied to individuals. And, even though you may share all your financial resources and have taken out loans together, there are invariably differences. These could be as simple as one spouse applied for a credit card and put the other on as an authorized user. This is a very common scenario, and credit bureaus often handle account owner status differently from authorized user status. Income differences are also a consideration. Because credit files are individual, credit bureaus do not consider your combined income. Perhaps when getting a car loan, only one of you actually applied for the loan, even though you are both on the title and registration. These are just a few examples of reasons for variance in credit scores between spouses.

Posted by:

Sarah L
05 Sep 2019

Quizzle is not quizzle anymore. It is Bankrate. Bankrate asks for the last 4 digits of SSN, and provides TransUnion credit info including a credit score. I tried it just now, which is how I learned of this change.

Posted by:

Sarah L
05 Sep 2019

Quizzle now Bankrate ( uses Vantage Score 3.0. They ask for your financial goals, like saving money or improving the credit score. Then asked what my score is now, which I did not know and why I was trying them out. Fortunately I could exit that sequence of questions and get to the credit score estimate.

Posted by:

Geoff S
09 Sep 2019

In Canada if you are a Scotiabank account holder you can get your credit score free, provided by TransUnion, updated every two months.

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