You’re probably already aware how important your credit score is. It influences whether you’ll be able to get a loan, and if so, what interest you’ll pay. It also impacts seemingly unrelated areas of your life, from your ability to rent an apartment to how much you pay for car insurance – even whether you get a job.
That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on it and do what you can to improve it.
Watch the following news story where I explain how to get a free FICO score from the company that invented credit scoring, Fair Isaac. Then meet me on the other side for more.
Will new rules really give you a free FICO credit score?
As I explained in the story above, new rules that might deliver a free FICO credit score started this Jan. 1. In a nutshell, if a lender denies you credit or offers you anything other than their “most favorable” interest rate, they have two choices: They can either furnish you the credit score they used to make their decision, or they send you a Risk-Based Pricing Notice explaining that your credit history was used to make the decision. Who’s doing what? According to this recent article by Herb Weisbaum at MSNBC…
I contacted nine major lenders and asked what they’re doing with credit card applications. Six responded. Wells Fargo and Capital One say they use the Credit Score Disclosure for credit card customers. But Bank of America, Discover, American Express, and SunTrust Bank have opted for the Risk-Based Pricing notice – the one that does not include the free credit score.
Starting in July, every lender that uses risk-based pricing (in other words, offering rates that depend on your creditworthiness) will have to start furnishing a free look at your credit score if they deny you credit or offer less than their best rate.
As I also explained in the video, however, seeing your credit score after you’ve applied for credit is shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped. You want to see your credit score well before you intend to borrow, not after you apply. That’s so you have time to check for problems and polish the score first, especially if you’re borrowing big, like for a mortgage. So either use the technique I suggested in my news story – signing up for, then canceling, FICO’s free trial – or bite the bullet and pay for it.
What about other websites that’ll offer a free FICO score?
There are many other websites that say they offer free scores, but the vast majority are big fat liars. Because in order to get a free score, you have to enroll in a credit monitoring service that costs $10 to $15 a month forever. That’s not free.
For most people, credit monitoring services are expensive overkill and offer you nothing you can’t do yourself: See 10 Top Tips For Free Identity Theft Prevention and Free ID Theft Prevention. So not only are these websites big fat liars, they’re also selling you “protection” that you can get for nothing.
There are other websites, however, that offer free scores just for showing up. Credit Karma, for example, offers free scores – you don’t even have to give them a credit card number. The catch? It’s not a FICO score, something they do a lousy job of disclosing on their website. While the score they offer will still give you a useful insight into how your credit looks – if you’re high on their score, you’re probably high on FICO’s too – it’s not the same score as the one potential lenders and others are likely looking at, and thus not as valuable.
If there’s a site out there that gives you an actual FICO score free with no strings attached, I haven’t seen it. If you have, please let me know.
There are also credit score “estimators” at sites like bankrate.com: You answer 10 questions, they give you an estimated range of your FICO score. My opinion? Don’t bother. All it’s doing is asking you questions like how long you’ve had credit, how much credit you have, if you’re behind on your payments, etc. You can get a free copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com, see how scores are computed at FICO’s site, and probably guess your own score just as easily.
These types of “estimators” are exactly the type of thing I was talking about in my recent post 5 Reasons Online Calculators Don’t Add up. This calculator doesn’t satisfy one of the main reasons you want to see your score – to uncover problems you’re not aware of.
Why do you have to pay?
Consumer advocates – including me – have argued for years that because these scores are so important, we should all have periodic free access to them, much as we do to credit reports today. And as I said in the video above, it’s gotten worse.
Last September, Fair Isaac quietly raised their price to see your score by 25 percent, from $15.95 to $19.95 - a fact barely reported in the media. In researching this story, I called the company to ask why they would do such a thing. Spokesman Craig Watts explained it this way: “The price hadn’t been raised in years and the bean-counters finally got their way.” Charming.
For a little more salt in the wound, your $20 only gets you the FICO score from one of the big three credit reporting agencies. Fair Isaac will sell you scores from TransUnion and Equifax for 20 bucks each, but they don’t offer a FICO score from Experian. If you want to see a score from them, you’ll have to pay $15.95 for the non-FICO, proprietary score they recently developed.
By the way, did you know you almost got the opportunity to get a free FICO credit score? Annual free credit scores were actually written into one early version of the Financial Reform bill that passed last year. What happened? Lobbying. Republican members of the Senate had this provision watered down to the one I explained above.