How to Check Your Credit Score for Free
Credit scores are an important piece of your financial puzzle. Your credit scores tell lenders how responsible you are when managing debt. A higher score can make it easier to get approved for loans at the best interest rates.
But how do you check your credit scores? And do you have to pay a fee? Here’s a closer look at how credit scores work and how to get yours free of charge.
What Is a Credit Score?
A credit score is a three-digit number that tells lenders at a glance how responsible you are with money. Generally, your score is based on things like:
- Whether you pay debts and other bills on time
- How much available credit you have
- Balances you’re carrying on credit card and loan accounts
- How often you apply for new credit
- Overall age of your credit accounts
- Types of credit you’re using
FICO credit scores are the most widely-used scores among lenders. These credit scores range from 300 to 850, with 850 being considered a “perfect” score. Lenders can also use VantageScores to gauge your creditworthiness.
Credit Scores vs. Credit Reports
Credit scores come from the information that’s included in your credit reports. A credit report is a detailed listing of your financial history, including:
- Total number of open credit accounts
- Balances for each account
- Credit limits for each account
- Payment history
- Inquiries for new credit
- Collection accounts and judgments, if applicable
- Personal information, such as your name, address and Social Security number
Federal law allows you to get a copy of your credit report for free once per year from each of the three major credit bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com. But if you check your credit report, your credit score isn’t automatically included.
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How to Get Your Credit Scores for Free
If you want to see your credit scores, you have a few ways to get them. The options include:
- Purchasing credit scores from FICO or the credit bureaus
- Getting them from a credit monitoring service, which may involve a fee
- Taking advantage of ways to check your credit scores for free
When you’re on a budget, getting free credit scores may be preferable to paying for them. And if you have a credit card account, you may already have access to free credit scores without realizing it.
A number of major card issuers offer free credit scores as an account benefit. This can be a FICO score or a VantageScore, depending on the card issuer. Your score is updated once per month.
With FICO scores, it’s important to note that your score may reflect the information on your Equifax, Experian or TransUnion credit reports. So if you have free credit scores with multiple credit cards, they may not be identical depending on which score the credit card issuer furnishes.
If you don’t have a credit card yet, you may consider applying for one to get free credit score access. But consider whether opening a credit card makes sense and what features or benefits you’re most interested in.
You can also use any or all of these free credit score resources to check your scores, no payment or credit card account required:
Experian Credit Boost: You can see your FICO 8 score from Experian for free, with the option to purchase credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion.
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Are Free Credit Scores Legit?
Generally, yes, if you get your free credit score through a reputable source such as a credit card company or one of the free credit score resources listed above, it’s legitimate. If you’re unsure whether a site that’s offering credit scores for free is the real deal, it’s important to do your research beforehand.
Also, remember that FICO and VantageScores aren’t the same in terms of how they’re calculated. If you have the option to check both credit scores for free, you may see significant differences in the numbers. And if you’re planning to check your scores before applying for a loan, you may want to use the same scoring model your lender uses.
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Why Checking Your Credit Scores Matters
Keeping track of your credit scores is important if you plan to borrow money.
For example, you may want to take out a personal loan to consolidate debt. Checking your credit scores before you apply can help you narrow down the list of lenders to find one that’s an appropriate fit.
The better your score, the easier it is to get approved for loans or lines of credit. And more importantly, you can save money when borrowing if you qualify for the best interest rates.
What to know about paying off debt and getting your finances back on track
Rebecca Lake is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance,
credit and debt. She’s a contributor to U.S. News and World Report,
Forbes Advisor and The Balance and her work has appeared online at CreditCards.com,
Money-Rates.com and dozens of other top publications.