Here’s a reader question you might have wondered about as well:
Do you have any idea why we are able to get a free credit report once per year, but not the credit score? Why does that cost money, especially since it seems to be part of a credit bureau report and lenders base part of their decision on the score when considering a transaction? – Susan
Before I answer Susan’s question, let’s define the difference between credit reports and credit scores — a lot of people seem to get them confused.
Consider the classes you took in school. All the tests and papers you turned in make up your class history, or report. The A you got at the end of the class that summarized your overall work was your score. Same with credit: Your credit report is the detailed history of your reported credit activities — your credit score boils it all down into a simple number.
Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) are required by law to furnish you with a free copy of your credit report every year, but they’re not required to give you a free copy of your credit score.
Credit scores are important. Here’s a video that explains exactly how much damage can be done to your score with some common mistakes.
Why do credit scores exist?
A simple numerical score makes it much easier for the bank’s computer to decide whether to loan you money. It takes time, experience and knowledge to comb through your credit report and decide whether you’re worthy of a loan, but a monkey could read a single digit and shuffle your application off to the proper stack.
The most popular score — known as a FICO score — rates your credit between 300 and a perfect 850. The higher your score, the better the deal you’re likely to get on loans. Even your insurance rates can be influenced by your credit score: Some insurers believe people who wreck their credit are more likely to wreck their cars.
Stacy Johnson / Money Talks News
How to score a free score
When I began writing about credit many years ago, there was virtually no way to see your credit score without paying. Happily, today there are many. Here are a few to try:
- Credit Sesame: There are several sites that offer free credit scores with no strings attached. While they don’t offer the FICO score, the score they do offer is generally close enough. Click here and you’ll have a score in a few seconds. Similar sites include Credit.com, Credit Karma, Quizzle and many more.
Here are some places you can see your actual FICO score free:
- Discover: Free to everyone. No need to be a customer or cardholder to use Discover’s CreditScoreCard website.
Bank and credit card companies: Other banks, credit unions and credit card companies offer free access to your score, but you have to be a customer or cardholder. Customers can see their scores on an ongoing basis by logging on to a company’s website or by checking their monthly loan or credit-card statements. Companies include:
- USAA: Enroll in free CreditCheck1.
- Merrick Bank: GoScore, a free benefit, includes emailed FICO scores.
- First Bankcard (First National Bank of Omaha)
- Bank of America
- Barclaycard US
- Chase Slate card
- American Express
- Wells Fargo: Customers with mortgages, home equity lines of credit, private student loans, personal loans, consumer credit cards and certain auto loans can see their scores through Wells Fargo Mobile banking.
- Pentagon Federal Credit Union
- North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union
- Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU)
- Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union (PSECU)
This is a partial list. More financial institutions are offering these services all the time.
- Credit counselors: Did you know that there’s expert financial advice available free 24/7? Where to find it, along with a free look at your credit score, is through credit counseling agencies. Designed to help with debt, these nonprofits will answer questions and help you set up a budget and get your credit score, all free. If you have a debt problem that’s beyond your ability to deal with alone, they also offer low-cost intervention with debt-management plans. We partner with one counseling agency that you can reach in our Solutions Center or by calling 888-739-9616.
You can also find a directory of credit counseling organizations at the National Foundation of Credit Counseling’s website.