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What Is My Credit Score? - Part 2

Getting Your Report
Now that you know (if you didn't already) that your financial skeletons are in a publically accessible closet, let's move on to how you find out about them before a lender does. If you're going to a financial institution to apply for a loan, it's a good idea to know in advance what hurdles you might be facing. Knowing your rating can help you to evaluate your chances of approval for a card, loan, or other financial product and focus on the applications that have a good chance of success.

It's smart to review not just one, but all three reports, each available from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You need to review and compare these three reports very carefully, as any one of them could contain inaccurate or inconsistent information that may negatively affect your report. If you notice an error, act on it immediately. You have only 30 days from the moment you receive your report to request a dispute.

You're entitled to get a free copy of your report from all three agencies once per year. All you have to do is call 1-877-322-8228, toll-free, or request a free copy online. If you're unemployed or on welfare, you're entitled to see your report. If you've had the unfortunate experience of being denied credit, you're entitled to see your report within 60 days of the denial.

It's a good idea to spread out your report checking, and get a report from a different agency every four months. That keeps you informed and allows you to monitor all three reports in sequence.

Getting Your Score
Now we're getting into the tricky, confusing, and sometimes expensive stuff. Nope, the bureaus do not list your credit score conveniently at the bottom of your free annual credit report. That would be too easy.

Here are a few things you need to know:

Know if the score you're getting is FICO or non-FICO. Both are important, but FICO is typically more applicable.

Know whether data from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion is being used. Data and results may vary among the three agencies. It is a good idea to get your score from all three.

If your credit is not good, some of the companies will give you an analysis of your report to help you understand what might be helping or hurting you.

Some companies will charge a lot, some a little, but there are ways to obtain your score free of charge. It's good to know what's on offer.

Some Things are Free
Three separate services allow you to check your score completely free of charge: Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Quizzle. Again, no scams here. You won't even be asked to enter any credit card information. They will confirm your identity by answering several questions; all you have to do is sign up.

You may think that these freebies will just give you a number and no other info, but that's not the case. You will get a good look at some relevant information from your history.

Credit Karma gets data from TransUnion and Equifax, Credit Sesame gets data from Experian, while Quizzle gets data from Equifax alone.

None of these are FICO scores. Credit Karma and Credit Sesame offer the VantageScore score, while Quizzle offers the Experian National Risk Model score.

Freebie Card Features
You may or may not know this, but several cards allow you to obtain your FICO score free each month, posted right there on your statement! Some of the cards and institutions are:

Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard
Capital One Venture Rewards card
Discover It card
First Bank card
Citibank
Several U.S. Bank offered cards
Walmart (yes, seriously)

If you're not a cardholder with any of the above, there's no harm in asking your current card issuer if they offer. If not, you can just sign up for one of the above cards and get your FICO score free.

The Not-So Freebies
You can also just go to MyFICO.com and pay a small fee. It is the direct source, after all. What's the cost? You'll need to sign up and pay for monitoring services each month, but you can cancel your membership at any time. Just do it before a new billing cycle starts, since these folks don't do partial refunds.

You can also just go to the actual reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. The options vary from a monthly subscription to a simple one-time fee.

Final Word
It's always best to keep your credit in the best shape possible, and therefore not have to worry about reports. If you haven't ever looked at your report, do it. Your report could contain lingering issues you're unaware of, something that might jeopardize your good standing over time. Your report could also include damaging mistakes. A late payment reported falsely, an unreported limit increase or even the ominous possibility of identity theft could be damaging your score, and if you don't check, you'll never know.

Whatever your reasons for needing your score, you now know how to check free. Start checking, keep checking, and pay close attention to what you see. The first step toward changing something is knowing what it is!

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