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You may have never heard of the Fair Isaac Corporation, but it’s heard of you. And it influences much of your life, from your mortgage’s interest rate to your ability to qualify for great credit cards.
That’s because Fair Isaac invented the FICO Score, a number used by lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness. Since the late ‘80s/early ’90s, this credit score has affected the financial lives of countless people across the United States. And you don’t have just one score, either; you have hundreds, including multiple FICO Scores.
Since they probably won’t go away any time soon, you should understand your FICO Scores in and out. And it would be helpful to have a basic understanding of other scoring models, particularly VantageScore – a credit score which is becoming more popular among lenders with each passing year.
If you’re looking for a FICO score from a specific credit report, you might already have access to it through an existing credit card account or other online service. Translation: You may not have to pay for it.
|Credit Card Issuers That Provide Free FICO Credit Scores|
|Issuer||Access||Credit Score||Credit Bureau||Who Can Get It|
|American Express||Login here||FICO Score 8||Experian||Consumer cardholders|
|Bank of America||Login here||FICO Score 8||TransUnion||Consumer cardholders|
|Barclays||Login here||FICO Score 8||TransUnion||Consumer cardholders|
|Citi||Login here||FICO Bankcard Score 8||Equifax||Consumer cardholders (select cards)|
|Discover*||Credit Scorecard (Unable to link directly)||FICO Score 8||TransUnion for cardholders; Experian otherwise||Anyone|
|HSBC||Login here||FICO Score (unknown version)||Equifax||Consumer cardholders, Select Credit customers|
|Merrick Bank||Login here||FICO Bankcard Score 8||TransUnion and/or Experian||Consumer cardholders|
|Navy Federal Credit Union||Login here||FICO Score 9||Equifax||Consumer cardholders|
|PenFed**||Login here||FICO NextGen Score||Equifax||Consumer cardholders, other account holders|
|Synchrony||Login here||FICO Score 8||TransUnion||Consumer cardholders|
|SunTrust||Login here||FICO Bankcard Score 8||Equifax||Consumer cardholders|
||Login here||FICO Score 8||Experian||Members|
|Wells Fargo||Login here||FICO Score 9||Experian||Eligible consumer account holders|
*Discover is a special case because its free credit score service is available to anyone, cardholder or not, as we explain below.
**We believe the credit score offered by PenFed is a FICO NextGen Score, but we’re not sure; if you’re a PenFed cardholder and can confirm, feel free to contact us to let us know.
There are also many credit cards issued by credit unions, and some of them provide free credit scores. And your bank may offer some type of free credit score for account holders as well.
For more organizations that offer FICO Scores (in some cases for free, but not always), see FICO’s page on Where to Get FICO Scores.
The following services are freely available to anyone, just for signing up (with the exception of U.S. Bank’s service, which is only available for cardholders).
|Credit Card Issuers and Companies That Provide Free VantageScore Credit Scores|
|Issuer/Company||Service||Credit Score||Credit Bureau||Who Can Get It|
|American Express||MyCredit Guide||VantageScore 3.0||TransUnion||Anyone|
|Capital One||CreditWise||VantageScore 3.0||TransUnion||Anyone|
|Chase||Credit Journey||VantageScore 3.0||TransUnion||Anyone|
|Credit Karma||Credit Karma||VantageScore 3.0||TransUnion and Equifax||Anyone|
|U.S. Bank||Login here||VantageScore 3.0||TransUnion||Consumer cardholders|
These are some popular services, but you can also find more sources of free VantageScores here.
You can find many other sites promising “free” or “$1” credit scores, but in many cases what they’re really doing is asking you to sign up for a paid service and providing a free trial. After the free trial ends you’ll be charged unless you cancel ahead of time. We recommend going with one of the free options mentioned here instead.
You have a variety of options when it comes to providers of free credit scores.
If you want to get free FICO Scores, your best bet is to get them through credit card issuers. Several of the major card issuers — Amex, Bank of America, Citi, etc., — offer free FICO Scores to cardholders as a benefit.
Getting free VantageScore credit scores is easier, because you don’t need to have any particular credit cards to access them. Instead, there are quite a few companies (including some card issuers) that offer free VantageScores to anyone, just for signing up.
Take note that these services update your scores at different intervals. The best services update more frequently, like once per week or once per month. Some only update once every three months.
Also keep in mind that most of these free services will only give you access to one or two of your credit scores for free. So, if you want to keep an eye on your scores from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, you may need to stack multiple free services together or consider paying for a 3-bureau credit monitoring service.
The first place you should look is your credit card company.
According to FICO, over 170 financial institutions participate in a program known as “FICO Score Open Access.” The Open Access program lets lenders give their customers free access to FICO Scores already purchased for monthly account risk reviews (like credit cards). In many cases this will be the same score used to manage your account, but it may or may not be the same score used by the lender for credit application decisions.
You can access your FICO Scores through the card issuers above after logging in to your online account. Free FICO Scores are typically only available to users of regular consumer credit cards, and not available for business card users.
VantageScore is the second most popular credit scoring model in the United States.
The three major credit bureaus pooled their resources to create this new score in 2006. And though more and more lenders are using this newer type of score, it’s still not as popular as FICO. (FICO Scores are currently used by 90% of top lenders in lending decisions.) However, VantageScores have been gaining in popularity.
Since free VantageScores are easier to get than free FICO Scores, you may want to use your VantageScores as a proxy for keeping track of your FICO Scores (if you can’t get access to free FICO Scores, that is).
In most cases, you can assume that a good VantageScore equates to a good FICO Score. VantageScores are also directionally similar to FICO Scores. For instance, if your VantageScores are going up, your FICO Scores probably are too; and if your VantageScores are going down, it’s likely that your FICO Scores are as well.
You can use a combination of the services above to see your credit scores for each one of your three credit reports – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. We’ll discuss a few popular services here in more detail.
The Discover Credit Scorecard is an excellent way to check up on your credit, providing a FICO Score 8. (Unfortunately, we’re currently unable to link to it directly, but you can find it on Discover’s website.)
It’s unique compared to the other services on this page because it’s available to Discover cardholders and non-cardholders alike. And oddly enough, it will use TransUnion credit reports for cardholders and Experian reports for non-cardholders.
So, the source of your Discover credit score will depend on how you signed up for the service: either through your cardholder login or otherwise.
Yes, you can access each aspect of this service simultaneously to get free FICO Scores from both TransUnion and Experian.
If you’re a cardholder, you can log in to your online account as you normally would to see your TransUnion credit score. Then, you can create a new Discover account, which is not associated with your credit card, to see your Experian credit score.
Or, if you’re not a cardholder, you can simply create a Discover account to access the service and see your FICO Score from Experian. This is free, and it doesn’t require applying for any credit cards, bank accounts, or other financial products.
You can get a free Chase VantageScore:
So, anyone can use Credit Journey to see a VantageScore.
The Wells Fargo FICO Score program stands out, because unlike the other services on this page it provides the latest score version: FICO Score 9.
FICO Score 9 has some differences compared to FICO Score 8, which is still the most popular version with lenders. The three main differences with FICO Score 9 are:
Wells Fargo states the following about eligibility to access this score: “You must be the primary account holder of an eligible Wells Fargo consumer account with a FICO Score available, and enrolled in Wells Fargo Online banking. Eligible Wells Fargo consumer accounts include deposit, loan, and credit accounts. Other consumer accounts may also be eligible. Contact Wells Fargo for details.”
Besides the card issuers above, Credit Karma is our favorite source for free VantageScores. Why? Because your Credit Karma.com free credit scores come from both TransUnion and Equifax, giving you a single handy dashboard to access both of these scores.
Take a look at your TransUnion free credit score compared to your Equifax credit score: Do they match, or are they close? If not, it indicates that there are some differences in the contents of those two credit reports.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s normal to have some differences — some lenders only report to one or two of the credit bureaus, and not all three. So you shouldn’t expect to see the same data on all of your reports.
However, it’s possible that differences in your credit reports could indicate fraud or errors of some kind, which is why it’s important to monitor all three of your credit reports periodically. If you find any erroneous or fraudulent information, you should correct it as soon as possible.
Experian, one of the nation’s premier consumer credit bureaus, allows you to view your FICO Score 8, based (unsurprisingly) on your Experian credit report.
Simply sign up for CreditWorks Basic — Experian’s free, low-tier membership — verify your identity, and then submit your order.
You’ll get instant access to your FICO Score 8, plus basic credit report information including, but not limited to, the number of open credit accounts in your name, your average account age, and your overall credit usage.
A credit score is a number (usually between 300 and 850) that helps lenders evaluate how likely you are to pay back a loan. Though the exact formula is a secret, it’s based on your credit history and current credit information (like how many cards you have open and whether or not they’re maxed out).
When you have good or excellent credit, it means you’re a low credit risk — and lenders are eager to lend you money at low rates. When you have poor or fair credit, it means you’re a high risk — and may have difficulty getting credit, or may only be able to obtain it at high interest rates.
Though you’ll often hear talk about your “credit score” in the singular, you don’t have just one.
In the United States, there are three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Each has its own credit file on you, and they could have different information in them.
There are many different algorithms that could be used to calculate your credit scores. As a result, your scores might vary depending on which credit reporting agency and type of score your lender uses.
For example, American Express cardholders get a free FICO Score 8, which is a score that ranges from 300 to 850, based on Experian credit report data. On the other hand, Citi cardholders get access to a FICO Bankcard Score 8, which ranges from 250 to 900, based on Equifax credit report data. Even though they’re both FICO Scores, they have different score ranges, and the two scores are based on data from two different sources.
We’ve been focusing on personal credit scores in this post, but businesses also get scored in similar ways. Learn more about business credit scores here.
As mentioned above, your credit history affects many parts of your life, like the rates on your mortgage and auto loan and whether you’re approved for an apartment or job.
Since credit and credit scores touch all lending and credit decisions, you can’t stick your head in the sand and pretend they don’t matter. (Your mom’s meatloaf is fantastic and all, but you really don’t want to live in her basement forever, do you?)
Checking your credit scores will help you figure out where you can improve. It can also help you notice mistakes or signs of identity theft.
However, don’t forget to check the sources of your credit scores (aka the information your credit scores are based on) — your three credit reports. There are several ways to get free credit reports, including AnnualCreditReport.com — the government mandated site where you can access your three credit reports for free once every 12 months.
Though these free reports won’t include credit scores, they will list information about every account you have with creditors so you can monitor them for accuracy. When you review your three reports, if you find anything incorrect you can dispute it with the credit bureau.
The most well-known type of credit score is the aforementioned FICO Score, which is used by most financial institutions to make major lending decisions.
Despite what you might think, you don’t have just one FICO Score either. Since each of the three credit reporting agencies has its own information about you, a separate FICO Score is calculated for each one.
Not to mention there are different types of FICO Scores. Some are used for credit cards, while others are used for car loans or mortgages. And like any good piece of technology, the formulas are updated frequently — with versions including FICO Score 8, FICO Score 9 and so on — yet another reason scores vary so much.
FICO released a new type of credit score in 2019 which takes information provided by consumers, such as bank account data, into account. This UltraFICO Score is designed to help people with limited or bad credit histories qualify for access to credit. There’s also the FICO Score XD 2, which is similar to UltraFICO in some ways.
FICO provides the most popular scoring models being used today, and we’ve already talked about VantageScores above. But there are a number of other credit scoring systems as well, with some being specific to certain credit reporting agencies.
These alternative credit scores are either less popular with lenders in general or used for niche purposes.
Unhappy with your credit scores? Here are a few ways you can improve them:
Learn more about your credit scores here. Trust us when we say the positive effects will ripple throughout your entire financial life.
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