Money

How to check your credit score for free

Check, please!

A credit card user checking their credit score Credit: Getty Images / Poike

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Credit scores play a big role in your financial life. They influence whether you're approved for a credit card or loan and the terms you receive, and landlords and insurance companies can also make decisions based on this three-digit number.

Checking your credit score can help you track your overall credit health, and provide insight into loans you may qualify for and what interest rates to expect. And if you need another reason: Keeping tabs on your credit score can lead to better borrowing habits. Fortunately, you have plenty of options when it comes to checking this number for free.

“You can almost get your credit score from anything or anyone and anywhere these days,” says Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “It’s almost like if you order a Coca-Cola from a vending machine, it’ll probably come out with your credit report and score, too.”

Aside from that vending machine—which might not happen anytime soon—let's dive into what a credit score is and where to check it for free.

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a three-digit number that measures how well you've managed credit, such as a mortgage or credit cards, in the past. It's also designed to predict how likely you are to pay back borrowed money in the future.

Credit-scoring companies calculate your credit scores using the information in your credit report, such as loan balances and payment history. The resulting credit score is an easy-to-read metric for lenders to use at a glance. The two most well-known scores in the industry, the FICO score and VantageScore, range from 300 to 850. When you apply for credit cards and loans, the lender will check your credit score, among other factors, and use it to decide whether you qualify.

“A higher credit score can give you access to financing with affordable interest rates,” McClary says. “In turn, getting a low interest rate, versus a high interest rate, can mean saving thousands of dollars a year. So there are incentives for maintaining a good credit score.”

Who can check your credit score?

Your credit reports and credit scores are protected under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Only people or companies with legitimate business reasons can look at this information. Lenders, employers, landlords, and insurers are common examples of entities that might check your credit reports and scores.

When you officially apply for credit, a lender will pull your credit. This creates a “hard inquiry” on your credit reports, which can temporarily ding your credit scores by a few points. But one thing that's important to keep in mind: Checking your own credit reports and credit scores won’t impact your credit.

Where can you check your credit score for free?

Before checking your credit scores, you should understand that they’ll vary based on several key factors. The information in your credit reports, when the score is calculated, and which credit-scoring model is used will all influence your scores. As a result, your credit scores may not exactly match. With that in mind, here are three ways to check your credit score for free.

You can use a free credit-monitoring service.

A credit-monitoring service is a company that provides access to your credit reports and credit scores on demand. Setting up an account usually works like this:

  • Create an account with a username and password.
  • Provide some personal information, such as your name, address, and Social Security number.
  • Answer a few security questions to help verify your identity.
  • Give permission for the card issuer to check your credit.

“These services can be very educational,” McClary says. “You can go to these websites and see what kind of factors go into a credit score, and you can learn about the things you can do to improve your credit health.”

On the flip side, he says, some of the services use proprietary credit-scoring models that a lender wouldn’t use. Before you sign up for one of these services, find out which score the service provides and how often it updates your credit information. For most types of credit cards and loans, “If you’re looking at the standard FICO score and VantageScore, you have a pretty good idea of what the lender’s looking at,” McClary says.

Check credit score
Credit: Getty Images / cnythzl

Here's a look at two well-known credit-monitoring services:

  • Anyone can sign up for a free Credit Karma account, and there is no paid version. The service can provide your VantageScore 3.0 credit score and Equifax and TransUnion credit reports. With a free account, you get advice based on the information in your credit profile, free identity monitoring and alerts, a free tax-filing service, and a free savings account.
  • Anyone can sign up for a free Credit Sesame account to access their VantageScore 3.0 based on TransUnion data. You can also upgrade to one of three paid versions ($9.95, $15.95, or $19.95) to view your credit reports, get identity alerts, and get Social Security monitoring.
You can check if a credit card issuer provides this perk.

If you have a credit card issued by a major bank or credit union, you might already have access to your free credit score. Depending on the issuer, you might need to have a credit card with the company; with others, anyone can sign up. The setup process works the same as with a credit-monitoring service.

Once you have an account, you can log in and check your credit scores at any time. Here's what some of the major card issuers offer:

  • Bank of America: Eligible credit card holders have access to their FICO score based on TransUnion data.
  • Capital One: Anyone can sign up for a free account through CreditWise to see their VantageScore 3.0 score and TransUnion credit report. Capital One will also alert you if your Social Security number or email address is found on the dark web.
  • Chase: Anyone can sign up for a free Chase Credit Journey account to check their VantageScore 3.0 score and TransUnion credit report. Chase will also help identify potential fraud.
  • Citibank: Eligible credit card holders have access to their FICO score.
  • Discover: Anyone can sign up for a free Discover Credit Scorecard account to see their FICO score based on Experian data. Discover will also notify you if your Social Security number is found on a list of dark web pages.
You can also talk to your bank or credit union.

If you don’t have a credit card but you have a relationship with a bank or credit union, ask whether it has a credit-monitoring service. Not all of them offer this benefit, but if you belong to one, it’s worth checking.

When should you check your credit score?

That’s up to you. While some people check their credit score annually, others prefer checking monthly or even weekly. Most services that provide your free credit score allow you to check it as much as you’d like. Just be sure you’re focusing more on overall trends instead of day-to-day changes.

McClary says it’s a good idea to check your credit reports along with your score at least once a year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says you should also check this information when you suspect identity theft and before applying for credit or certain jobs.

Previously, you could check your free credit reports once a year at annualcreditreport.com. But the three credit reporting bureaus are stepping up access during the coronavirus pandemic. You can check your free credit reports weekly through April 2021.

Bottom Line

Because your credit score plays such an important role in your financial life—lenders and others can use this number to make decisions that affect you—tracking your credit score can help you understand your overall financial health. The best option for checking your credit score depends on what’s convenient for you and the type of information you can view. No matter which one you choose, use the information to stay informed and help ensure a strong financial future for yourself.

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