FICO credit scores are used by 90 of the 100 largest U.S. financial institutions to evaluate consumer creditworthiness, according to Fair Isaac Corp., or FICO.
Not long ago, consumers had to pay to see their official FICO scores. But now you can get your score for free if you know where to look.
That change is thanks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. After it was founded in 2011, the federal agency pushed major credit card companies to allow consumers free and regular access to their credit scores. The bureau argued that consumers who know their credit scores are more likely to monitor their credit reports and therefore more likely to spot errors on their credit reports.
Indeed, knowing and monitoring your credit score and credit reports can afford you more control over your financial life.
Credit scores versus credit reports
Credit scores are meant to help predict the risk of lending to you. They are generated when a company like FICO runs data from your creditors through a mathematical formula.
You can see that data, too, in the form of a credit report.
Three national credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — collect data to produce credit reports. Federal law requires them to give consumers one free copy of their credit reports every 12 months.
You should request your report from all three companies, as your credit report compiled by Experian may differ from the one compiled by TransUnion, for example. For step-by-step directions, see “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”
It’s smart to keep an eye on credit reports, too, since they reveal what merchants and lenders are telling each other about you. Monitoring your credit reports also lets you keep an eye out for errors and signs of identity theft.
Still, credit reports don’t include your credit score. You have to get that separately.
FICO credit scores
Typical FICO scores range from 300 to a perfect 850. The higher the score, the better your creditworthiness.
Some fluctuation in a score is to be expected. It may move around in response to how you manage your credit, pay your bills and take on new debt.
Getting a free FICO score still takes a little finesse, as it’s available from a limited but growing number of sources. If you go through FICO for your score, it will cost you.
Following are six ways to access your official FICO score free of charge. Looking at your credit score does not affect your credit, by the way.
1. Discover Bank
Discover Bank offers a free FICO score to anyone via its Credit Scorecard program, which you can sign up for online. The Credit Scorecard website explains:
“There’s no cost or ding to your credit. You don’t have to be a customer, and we’ll never sell your information.”
2. Credit cards
Some financial institutions offer their credit-card holders a look at their FICO scores for free, such as by cardholders checking their accounts online.
To learn more, check out “These 19 Card Companies Offer Free Credit Score Info.” If you don’t see your credit card company on that list, check its website or contact the company directly to ask if it offers free credit scores to cardholders.
3. Auto loans
Car buyers who are financing their purchase through certain companies, such as Ally Financial, can see their scores for free.
4. Credit unions
Some credit unions give their members, or their members who are borrowers, free access to FICO scores. Among them are:
- North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union
- Digital Federal Credit Union
- Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union
5. Student loans
Borrowers and co-signers of Sallie Mae Smart Option undergraduate student loans can see their FICO scores for free quarterly.
6. Credit counselors
Clients of consumer credit counseling services are entitled to receive their FICO scores for free, according to Consumer Reports. Offering credits scores enables credit counselors to better help their clients improve their financial situations.
Consumer Reports suggests checking with the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling to find services near you.
Alternatives to official FICO scores
Plenty of other sites offer free credit scores, just not FICO scores. If you can’t get access through any of the methods above, consider alternative scores such as VantageScore credit scores. You’ll at least get a reading on your credit that you can monitor and compare over time.
According to VantageScore Solutions, the company behind VantageScore credit scores, you can get its scores for free from multiple providers. These providers are listed on the VantageScore website.
Another option is to use the FICO Scores Estimator. You answer 10 questions, and it delivers an estimated range for your FICO score for free.
Do you know where you stand with credit scores and reports? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.