Check Your Credit Score For FreeCredit scores are an integral part of American life, but many Americans are in the dark about where that little number comes from, what it means, and what impact it can have on their lives. Knowing your score and understanding what it means is one of the first and most important steps toward financial stability.
Your credit score (often called a credit rating) is an estimate of the likelihood that you will repay your debts on time, based on your previous financial history. It is used by banks, financial institutions, retailers, and even potential landlords and employers to determine whether you are eligible for a loan, credit card, or mortgage or to evaluate your financial reliability. A higher score means that you're known to be more financially responsible, and therefore less of a risk for lenders. A low rating suggests to money lenders that they may be taking a financial risk by dealing with you, which might lead to increased interest rates or even the rejection of an application for a loan, card, or installment purchase.
Different companies use different models to calculate your score, which means that you can have dozens of scores at any given time. The most widely used model and the most important to follow is your FICO score, generated by the Fair Isaac Corporation. Five major categories determine your FICO score: payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), diversity (10%), and new credit (10%). FICO scores range from 300 to 850, the higher, the better. Most creditors will consider a score of 750 or above an excellent rating, while anything below 550 will make creditors view you as a risk.
Three major reporting bureaus keep track of your personal information and financial histories: Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®. Most companies and creditors rely on one or more of these three. These bureaus operate independently and do not share information, and some creditors may not report all of your information to all three. It may be necessary to review your reports from each of them to have a full view of your overall financial viability.
You need to keep track of your rating and your reports because they determine your ability to apply for new loans or cards, as well as the interest rates you'll pay. Knowing your rating and understanding how it's generated are the first steps toward improving your standing and earning better, cheaper access to financial services. Some services charge fees to provide you with your report, and you can purchase a report directly from any of the three major bureaus at any time. If you're not willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for an annual subscription, there are ways for you to check your score for free.
Links to services discussed here are listed at the end of this article.
You're entitled to one yearly free report from each of the three major reporting bureaus. Be sure to check your Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® reports for inconsistencies and disputable errors. Some services may charge a fee or sign you up for a paid subscription, but AnnualCreditReport is completely free. You can only request one report a year from each bureau. Many experts recommend checking one every four months. Keep the reports so that you can compare them and check them for inconsistencies.
Get reports from Equifax® and TransUnion® from Credit Karma. You have to sign up for a free account, but this membership will grant you access to more than just your credit scores. Credit Karma offers an in-depth breakdown of your financial history, as well as information on how to improve your rating. They stay free by charging for their third-party offers, but these are optional. Credit Karma lets you get updates and check your scores up to once a week, so you're always in touch with your overall rating.
CreditSesame relies on data from TransUnion® to provide your rating. A free CreditSesame account gives you access to their basic features, including a free monthly report from one bureau, regular credit monitoring, and alerts and notifications on your financial profile. A paid account will get you access to information from all three bureaus.
Like CreditSesame, Quizzle retrieves your score from TransUnion®. They also offer reports from VantageScore®, which uses a mathematical model similar to the one used by FICO to compute your rating. Quizzle allows you to dispute inconsistencies and inaccuracies on your report straight from their website.
FreeCreditScore.com supplies Experian® scores for free once you sign up for their service. You can also set up alerts and monitoring to help you defend against fraud, identity theft, and inaccurate information that can lower your rating. FreeCreditReport.com will provide a detailed list of your debts, account history, hard inquiries, and other potentially negative information. They offer customer support seven days a week if you have any questions about your account.
Credit.com pulls from Experian®'s information database, as well as VantageScore® 3.0. It allows you to track your rating every 30 days, compare it to other people in your state and across the US, and view the progress of your score over time. This website also reviews your history and offers suggestions about specific factors that can help you improve your score.
Mint is primarily a budgeting program, but you can also use their app to check your score for free. The free app grants you quarterly access to your Equifax score, but if you need more features (such as ratings from all three bureaus, monthly updates, details on what impacted your rating, etc.), you can spring for their paid version at $16.99 per month.
Some banks can give you your credit rating, including Chase, Capital One, and Bank of America. Call your bank, check their website, or log in to your online account to see whether your bank provides credit monitoring support.
Your Credit Card Providers
Most card providers can pull your history for free and give you an estimate of your score. Some cards like Discover even have a built-in FICO score monitoring feature called Credit Scorecard! If you're shopping for a new card, consider applying for one that allows you to check your rating, and it's worth checking to see if your existing card offers this feature.
Final WordA wide variety of free online resources and tools will give you access to your score, so there's no reason not to be up-to-date. Check your ratings regularly with different agencies or services, especially since Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® don't share their data. Your rating may vary slightly from report to report, but it will give you a more comprehensive idea of your creditworthiness. Staying on top of your credit is the first step to being more attractive to potential lenders, so get your free credit report now!