Your credit score is important because it’s one of the main things lenders use to determine your creditworthiness. There are multiple ways to check your credit score for free. So how do you decide which to use?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the various options, explain the differences between them, and tell you where money expert Clark Howard gets his scores.
Where to Get Your Credit Score Anytime Without Paying a Dime
Credit scores have been around for around 30 years, but it’s never been easier than now to check yours. That said, not all credit scores are created equal. Before we get into the places you can find your credit score at no charge, let’s make sure you know what you’re looking at when you do.
|Where to Get Free FICO Scores||Where to Get Free Non-FICO Scores|
|Discover Credit Scorecard||Credit Karma|
|Credit Cards||Credit Sesame|
|Banks & Credit Unions|
Understanding FICO vs. non-FICO scores
When you check your credit score, you’ll see a number between 300 and 850. This is the number that lenders use to determine how big of a credit risk you are. The lower the number, the bigger the risk. The higher the number, the more likely it is you’ll be extended credit on good terms.
Somewhere around that number, you should see language that tells you whether that score is a FICO score or a VantageScore, which is a non-FICO score. While both types of scores operate on that 300-850 range, there are some big differences between them.
“There is one source and one source only for your true credit score: the Fair Isaac Corporation,” Clark says. “That would be your FICO score, the one that most lenders will use when they’re deciding to loan you money or not.”
However, you’ll find that the most popular places people are getting their free credit scores these days are showing a VantageScore instead.
“The three main bureaus hate that FICO dominates the credit score market, so they started selling their own impostor score called a VantageScore,” Clark says.
FICO scores and VantageScores are calculated using slightly different methods, so you might find that your score varies quite a bit when you pull it from more than one of the free sources below. For that reason, Clark likes to get both his FICO score and his VantageScore when he’s checking on his numbers.
Options for Getting Your Free FICO Score
There are a number of ways you can get your FICO score for free. Here are the most convenient:
Discover Credit Scorecard
Anyone can get a free FICO score with Discover Bank’s Credit Scorecard. This is true even if you don’t bank with Discover.
To get your score, you’ll need to sign up for the service, but it’s a simple process. To see your score, you’ll need to:
- Provide your email address and set up a password
- Give your name, address, date of birth and Social Security Number
- Indicate whether you are a student or not
- Answer some security questions based on publicly available information
Once your identity is verified, you’ll have instant access to your FICO score based on your Experian credit report. In addition to your score you’ll see:
- The total number of accounts on your report
- The length of your credit history
- The number of credit inquiries currently on your account
- Your revolving credit utilization
- Any missed payments on your report
All of the things above are factored in to calculate your FICO score.
One of the great things about the Discover Credit Scorecard (aside from it being free) is that there is no pressure to sign up for paid products and subscriptions like we found when we tested other sites that claim to provide free FICO scores.
Another way to get your FICO score for free is related to something you might already have in your wallet: credit cards.
A number of credit card issuers are now offering free FICO scores as a perk to their customers. At the time of this writing, here are some of the bigger card issuers that offer free scores with some or all of their cards:
- American Express
- Bank of America
- Commerce Bank
Again, not all cards issued by these banks will have a free FICO score offering. If you carry a card from one of these banks, you can sign in to your account online to see if you have access to your score or call the toll free number on the back of your card. Sometimes your score will even appear on your paper statement, if you receive one of those.
Banks & Credit Unions
In many cases, you don’t even need a credit card to get access to your FICO score for free. Simply having an account at some banks and credit unions will get you that perk.
Again, you may find this when you log in to your account online, or you can call your bank to see if it’s available.
Options for Getting Free Non-FICO Scores
Once you’ve gotten your FICO score, you probably want to do what Clark does and check your non-FICO score as well. Even though most lenders use FICO scores, getting your non-FICO score can give you a more well-rounded picture of where you stand credit-wise.
Team Clark has tested multiple options for getting your VantageScore for free and we have two clear favorites.
Credit Karma is a site that will give you two different scores for free: one based on your TransUnion credit report and one based on your Equifax credit report. Credit Karma calculates your score using VantageScore 3.0, which it explains like this:
“VantageScore 3.0 is a credit scoring model. It takes the information in your credit report and turns it into a score. There are many scoring models out there, including ones from FICO and other companies. Each one calculates your score a bit differently, but they all use information from your report.”
You might notice that the two scores can be different. That’s because the credit reports from the two bureaus can contain slightly different information at any given time depending on when creditors are reporting to them.
We recommend Credit Karma for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is its robust “Credit Score Simulator.”
With the Credit Score Simulator, you can see how your credit score would likely change if you were to take any number of actions, including:
- Getting a new loan
- Opening a new credit card
- Transferring balances to a new card
- Closing your oldest credit card
- Getting a credit limit increase
- Increasing or decreasing your balances
- Letting accounts go past due
- Having an account sent to collections
Playing around with the simulator can give you a good sense of how much these activities affect your credit score as well as which actions you could take to improve it — and by how much.
Signing up for Credit Karma is much the same as signing up for Discover Credit Scorecard. All that’s required is creating an account, giving some basic information and confirming your identity by answering a few security questions.
While not quite as robust as Credit Karma, Credit Sesame is another option for getting your free non-FICO score. Credit Sesame also uses VantageScore 3.0 But you only get one score, and it’s based on your TransUnion credit report.
Signing up for Credit Sesame is similar to the other services we’ve mentioned. Your free subscription will also get you access to credit monitoring, a debt analysis tool and a nominal amount of “identity theft insurance.”
Clark uses the perk that comes with his Citi credit card to check his free FICO score and Credit Karma to get his VantageScore periodically to make sure nothing is awry with his credit, but he doesn’t want you to spend too much of your time thinking about it.
“Your goal is from wherever you are right now, to try to move that number up,” Clark says. “But once you get to 760, just give it a rest,” he says.
Not quite there yet? Check out our 5 Sneaky Ways to Improve Your Credit Score.