A high credit score is your ticket to discounts in borrowing and insurance. It can also be a key to landing a job or a rental home.
FICO (for Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that invented credit scoring) scores are used in an estimated 90 percent of credit decisions in the United States.
FICO is the score that lenders, bankers, landlords, merchants and other businesses check to gauge your creditworthiness.
Not long ago consumers had to pay for a peek at their official FICO scores. But that’s history. Now you can get your score for free if you know where to look.
How to use your score
For free FICO scores you can thank the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB pushed the heads of major credit card companies to allow consumers no-cost, regular access to the official FICO score that lenders use, not educational scores likes the ones banks, credit card companies and others often offer consumers instead. The CFPB argued that consumers who can monitor their credit scores are able to improve their credit and avoid delinquency.
Monitoring your score adds to the control you have over your financial life. FICO scores range between 300 and 850; the higher the score, the better your creditworthiness.
Your credit score is meant to predict the risk of lending to you. It is 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. It’s smart to keep an eye on those reports, too, since they reveal what merchants and lenders are telling each other about you.
The government requires the three major credit reporting companies — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, which collect data and produce these reports — to give consumers one free every 12 months. You can get these free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Monitoring your credit reports lets you keep an eye out for identity theft and reporting errors from creditors.
- Learn more about getting credit reports and correcting errors from “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”
- “7 Fast Ways to Raise Your Credit Score” tells how to boost your numbers.
Watch your score’s movements
Still, credit reports don’t include your credit score. You have to get that separately.
It is instructive and kind of fun to watch your FICO score go up or down as you borrow, repay and apply for credit. Also, an unexpected change might alert you to fraud or an error reported by a credit bureau.
How good is the score you see?
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.
Despite the decided improvements, a big problem that remains for consumers is the inconsistency among the scores offered, even the FICO scores, writes Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary:
Even the scores under the FICO brand can vary. FICO has updated its scoring model several times. But this does not mean that lenders use the latest versions. So even within the FICO scoring system, the score you get free could be different from the one a lender eventually pulls when you apply for credit. Still, FICO — new or old — is the go-to scoring system for most lenders.
Getting a free FICO score still takes a little finesse as it’s available from a limited (but growing) number of sources. If you ask FICO for your score, be prepared for a $19.95 charge.
Here 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. Credit cards
Some banks can offer their credit-card holders a look at their FICO scores through FICO’s Score Open Access. And at least one bank, Discover, offers a free FICO score to anyone.
Who’s eligible: Holders of these cards can access their FICO scores, typically by checking the account online:
- Discover: Offers TransUnion FICO scores on monthly bills for cardholders. Also offers a free credit score to anyone on its CreditScoreCard website.
- USAA: Enroll in free CreditCheck1
- Merrick Bank: GoScore, a free benefit, includes emailed FICO scores
- First Bankcard
- Bank of America
- Barclaycard US
- Chase Slate card
- American Express