Knowing your credit score is the first step to securing a loan for a new car, starting your own business, or taking out a mortgage. With everything available online these days, checking your credit score is easier and more convenient than ever — as long as you know where to look.
Credit report vs. credit score
One of the best ways to stay up to date on your credit health and learn whether your identity has been compromised is by taking advantage of your free annual credit reports. Per USAGov, every American gets a free credit report from the three major reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These reports can be requested free of charge any time during a 12-month period at AnnualCreditReport.com, and requesting them will not negatively impact your score in any way.
It’s worth noting that these credit reports do not include a credit score. You can, however, get a sense of how your credit is performing by observing your accounts and payment history. If you see fraudulent accounts or missed payments, you’ll be in a better position to rectify those problems quickly, which will have a positive impact on your credit score.
While you can request all three credit reports at the same time, USAGov suggests you may want to stagger them in such a way that you can stay informed over the 12-months. For example, if you check your Equifax report in January, your Experian report in May and your TransUnion report in September, you’ll have a good picture of where your credit is all year long.
How to get your credit score for free
According to The Balance’s Latoya Irby, your surest bet for getting your credit score for free is likely your credit card issuers. In some cases, you can take advantage of a free credit score service from a financial institution even if you aren’t a customer — as Irby notes, you won’t pay for their services, but you will be giving permission for that institution to access your private financial data. Checking your credit score through these services does not negatively impact your score.
In many cases, using these services will give you access to your TransUnion VantageScore or FICO credit score. These predictive tools leverage information from your credit history to give you an accurate picture of your credit score. Louis DeNicola writes for Experian that the FICO is considered the standard for credit scores, but he notes that VantageScore is a viable system that has only gotten more reliable since its introduction in 2006.
Other ways to get your credit score
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, other ways to get your credit score online include credit score services like WalletHub, Credit Karma or Mint. In some cases, these services are provided for free — as Investopedia’s Tim Parker notes, Credit Karma does not charge you for access to your credit score but profits by using your data for targeted advertising. In other cases, as the CFPB notes, you may be required to sign up for monthly credit monitoring for a fee to get your credit score. Other services may offer your free credit score as part of a trial, and if you fail to cancel the service before the trial’s conclusion, you’ll have to pay for the service.
It is essential that you do your research before giving any sensitive information out. Searching for free credit scores opens you up to the potential of clicking into fraudulent websites looking to steal your information. Check that the service you are considering is authentic and that its website security is sufficient. You may also want to research whether a service has been the victim of a data breach, as Equifax recently experienced.
If you decide to pay for your credit score, you may be best suited to go through one of the three credit bureaus or FICO. The Basic FICO subscription package starts at $19.95 a month and includes monthly updates, specific scores for mortgages and auto loans and score and credit monitoring. While the expense may be less appealing than a free service, it may be a worthwhile one if you’re on a mission to rebuild your credit score.
Learning your credit score is easier than ever, and in some cases, it won’t cost you a dime. Ask your financial institution how you can get your credit score and put yourself on the path to financial success.