Free Credit Score Resource Guide
Point of Interest:
Even if you aren’t planning on borrowing any time soon, you still want to monitor your report to ensure no mistakes or incorrect information is posted. Lucky for you: there are several ways to get your credit score for free, including credit bureaus, third-party sites, banks, and credit card companies.
The excitement of getting a new car, buying a house, or getting funding for anything you need cash for can come to a standstill if you’ve got problems with your credit score. Credit scores are used by lenders to help decide whether they want to grant you approval for a loan or not, so the first and most critical step to get the best chance of securing financing is looking at your current credit report. While some services charge for accessing your score, there’s a host of resources offering free credit reports.
What is a credit score?
A credit score is a numerical representation of how reliable you are to pay back a debt based on your financial history and current financial picture. More specifically, these scores attempt to assess the likelihood you will fall at least 90 days behind on a bill within the next two years. Different credit reporting companies put together credit scores based on proprietary formulas for banks, credit unions and other lenders to use when making lending approval decisions.
Is this an accurate representation of your likelihood to make good on your debt? Yes and no. While that’s the goal of the credit reporting companies, they can only go off of a snapshot of your current financial situation and your past borrowing results. If you’ve never borrowed money before, there’s not a lot for the reporting bureaus to consider. If you’ve made some mistakes in your past that you’ve corrected, this might not fully reflect in your credit scores.
You may be unaware that you actually have several different credit scores. Each credit reporting and scoring bureau uses a different formula to try and create the most accurate picture of your lending repayment reliability.
The most popularly utilized group of scores is created by the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO). FICO scores are utilized by the three most notable credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. While you may only see a single FICO score when you pull your free credit report, there are actually 19 different FICO scores commonly used by lenders.
Depending on what type of financing you’re applying for, a different score may be used. For example, if you are looking to secure a home loan, the three bureaus use FICO scores 2, 4 and 5. If you’re looking to get an auto loan, the bureaus will look to FICO scores 2, 4, 5 and 8. When you pull up your score through any of the free credit score resources, though, you will most likely see FICO score 8.
What’s the difference between the 19 different scores? The exact formula used to calculate your score will vary based on what the lender is trying to determine. All FICO scores are made up of the same five elements, though — existing debt, new credit, payment history, credit mix and length of credit history.
Outside of FICO scores, there are some less popular credit score models that you could run into. One of these is the Vantage score that may help those with less of a credit history get a usable score. Before last year, alternative models were less popular. However, in August of 2019, the Federal Housing Finance Agency ruled that major lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are now required to use alternative credit scoring models to determine rates and loan approval. With this ruling, scores like the Vantage score become more relevant.
Do I have to pay for a credit score?
You do not have to pay for a credit score, and you do not have to pay to view your credit score. The companies that produce credit scores do so whether you want them to or not. You do not have to sign up or pay to be tracked for a credit score; it’s already happening automatically.
To access your credit score, you also don’t have to pay. Yes, if you go directly to the different reporting bureaus, you will be charged. However, there are several different free credit score options now available you can access.
How to get a free credit score
When it comes to getting access to a free credit score report, you have options. In reality, the score is important to you, but it’s designed as a product for the lenders. Because of this, it’s not unrealistic to expect the onus of payment to fall on the lenders.
Federal law now mandates that you can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three reporting bureaus. Annualcreditreport.com provides a fee-free way for anyone to request these reports from each bureau once a year. You will need your social security number, legal name, birthday and the past two years of addresses.
2. Third-party sites
TV, the internet and other media sources are now flooded with advertisements from third-party companies offering free credit scores and monitoring. For many of these companies, all you have to do is create an account, fill out some basic information and you can access your credit score for free.
Why do they take the time and pay the money to do this? These companies use your information and credit score to recommend banking products to you like loans, credit cards, identity theft protection and more. A company will take the sales approach of “Be a resource first,” and applying it to the credit and banking markets.
Many banks offer customers access to their credit scores for free as a perk of being a customer. Some of the more popular banks offering this service include Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Ally. Typically, these banks will provide your FICO score (usually FICO 8), which is used by 90% of the top lenders.
4. Credit card companies
Credit card companies also offer access to free credit scores for users as an account perk. Companies like Discover and Chase let customers pull their scores at any time. Additionally, you may get access to regular updates and monitoring services. Discover, for example, gives customers monthly notifications about checking their credit score.