Here's How To Check Your Free FICO® Score
If you're looking to get your FICO® score for free, the best place to start is with your credit card company.
Credit card lenders like Chase, Citi, Bank of America and others offer free FICO® scores if you have an account set up with them, so let's take a look at how you can get your free score with them.
Remember: knowing your credit score is the first step toward taking charge of your finances, and because most creditors base their lending decisions on your FICO® score, it's important to know where you stand.
Credit card issuers are your best bet
You can get your FICO® score directly from FICO, but you'll pay a fee.
To get your score for free, credit card issuers are your best bet.
Every bank out there gets its FICO® scores from at least one of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—and some pull scores from more than one bureau.
Credit card lenders want your business, and many of them offer free scores to their borrowers as a perk.
Additionally, you might be able to get your score for free if your credit card company, bank, or credit union participates in the FICO® Score Open Access Program.
Currently, the program lists 170 financial institutions among its participants, so there's a decent chance at least one of yours is on it.
Where to find free FICO® scores
A lot of credit card lenders offer FICO® scores for free, but they vary on how often they update it, as well as which credit bureaus they use to get your score.
Here's a list of credit card companies to check out if you're looking to get free access to your score.
The Discover card offers free access to your FICO® score, and you don't even need to be a customer to get it.
Both cardholders and non-cardholders can see their score by visiting Discover Credit Scorecard.
You'll have to register, which means providing your email address and your social security number.
Discover offers score updates every 30 days, and it pulls its info from Experian. Discover also allows you to check your score as often as you like.
And because it counts these as soft inquiries, checking won't negatively affect your FICO® score.
Citibank also offers free FICO® score access with many of its credit cards, and you'll get an updated score monthly without paying anything extra.
Citi uses Equifax for its FICO® scores, and it reports updates as soft inquiries—so you don't have to worry about them hurting your credit score.
Bank of America
Bank of America cardholders can also get free access to their FICO® score every month.
As an added perk, you can use their reports to compare your month-to-month score against the national average.
According to Bank of America, your score updates count as soft inquiries, so they won't hurt your credit score.
Bank of America gets its scores from TransUnion.
Through its Slate Credit Dashboard, Chase offers monthly updated FICO® scores from Experian for free to cardholders.
Like the other credit card lenders on this list, it reports score updates as soft inquiries, which means they won't negatively impact your credit score.
You can get your FICO® score for free once a month with any of the credit cards Wells Fargo offers, but you have to be enrolled in their online banking program.
Wells Fargo gets its scores from Experian, and receiving score updates won't harm your credit score.
What about VantageScore?
As we already mentioned, the FICO® score isn't the only credit scoring model on the market.
There's also the VantageScore, which is a direct competitor of FICO created by the big three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
VantageScore vs FICO Score
Compared to the FICO® score, the VantageScore is the new kid on the block, having only appeared on the credit scene in 2006.
Like the FICO® score, the newest version (as well as the most commonly used version) of the VantageScore uses a numerical range between 300 and 850.
While both scoring models consider a number of factors to calculate your score, they assign different weight and significance to these factors.
It's easiest to assess the differences by putting the two scoring models side by side.
For purposes of this comparison, we're using the current most common versions for each scoring model: VantageScore 3.0 and FICO® score 8.
As you can see, both scoring models assign the most weight to your payment history. This is why it's so important to pay your bills on time every month.
No matter which scoring model your lender uses, the way you use (or misuse) credit counts.
While some factors carry more weight than others, you can't afford to neglect any of them, as each one contributes to your score.
Using Credit Karma to get your free VantageScore
If you're interested in staying on top of your VantageScore, you can get your score from Credit Karma for free by signing up for the site's Credit Report Card service.
Once you're signed up, Credit Karma will provide you with weekly VantageScore 3.0 updates from Equifax and TransUnion.
These updates count as soft inquiries, which means they won't negatively impact your credit score.
What is a credit score?
Your credit score is a gauge of how well you manage your finances—sort of like a snapshot of your overall financial health (or lack of it).
It's a way for potential lenders to assess what level of risk you pose if they decide to extend you credit or lend you money.
If your score is low, you'll probably have a hard time getting credit, and you can expect to pay higher interest rates on credit cards and loans.
With a high score, however, your interest rates will be lower, and it'll be a lot easier to get credit.
You might be surprised to learn there is no single "credit score" out there.
Rather, there are a number of credit scoring models—each one with its own criteria and numerical range. Despite the different scoring models, a typical credit score range is between 300 and 850.
Regardless of the model, your score is made up of a number of factors, including how much credit you have, how much you use, whether you pay your bills on time, your mix of credit accounts, and how long you've been using credit.
There are many different credit scoring models, but as we've discussed, the two most common you'll encounter are the FICO® score and the VantageScore.
What is a FICO® score, anyway?
"FICO" is actually an acronym that stands for Fair Isaac Corporation.
Founded by an engineer (Bill Fair) and a mathematician (Earl Isaac), FICO has been around since 1956, but it didn't create its FICO® score until 1989.
Even within FICO as a company, there are a number of different scoring models, including newer generations of scoring methodologies.
The FICO® score range is generally 300 to 850, but it can go up to 900 depending on the particular FICO scoring model used. According to FICO, its scoring models are used by "90% of top lenders."
With so many lenders relying on your FICO® score to make lending decisions, it's important to know when you stand.
Fortunately, you have a number of options for getting your score for free.
5 reasons your credit score is important
Your credit score is much more than just a number.
A low score can affect just about every part of your life, from where you live to what kind of car you drive.
Because some employers check credit scores before they hire, a bad score can even put the brakes on career opportunities.
Here are just five reasons why your credit score matters.
1. Where you live
Whether it's buying a house or renting an apartment, your credit score matters a great deal.
Mortgage lenders look at your score when deciding whether you qualify for a home loan, and they use your score to set interest rates. A low score can mean paying tens of thousands more in interest over the life of your mortgage.
If you're a renter, your landlord will also want to know your score before deciding to offer you a rental agreement.
Bad credit often means being forced to fork over a higher security deposit, and it could even mean getting turned down for a lease altogether.
2. What you drive
After a house, a car is usually a person's biggest purchase.
Most people don't have enough cash on hand to buy a vehicle outright, which means taking out a loan or signing a lease. As with a house, your lender will check your credit score before extending credit.
If your credit score is low, you can expect to end up paying a much higher interest rate on your car loan compared to someone with good credit.
3. Where you work
Many employers look at a prospective hire's credit report before offering employment, and this is especially true in jobs that require an employee to deal with money or handle company accounts.
If you can't handle your own finances, potential employers might worry you won't be responsible with theirs, either.
4. Starting your own business
If you've always dreamed of owning your own business, you should start working on improving your credit score sooner rather than later.
Any new venture requires a great deal of start-up cash, and lenders don't give these types of loans to just anyone.
You'll need a great credit score to qualify for a new or small business loan.
5. Utilities and other services
Your credit score can also play a role in whether a utility company will agree to hook you into its system.
A low score can mean getting denied for water, electrical, or cable service, and you might find it tough to get a service contract for a mobile phone.
If your score is low, some utility companies offer prepaid or pay-as-you-go plans, while others might require you to sign up with a responsible borrower who agrees to pay if you fall behind on your bills.
4 ways to improve your credit score
Fortunately, just because you have a low credit score doesn't mean you're stuck with it forever. If your score is lower than you'd like it to be, there are several things you can do to improve it.
Your FICO® score gives potential lenders a big picture look at how you handle your financial obligations.
A good score can open doors and help you finance big purchases like a car or new home.
Because your score is so important, it's critical to monitor it on a regular basis.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to check your FICO® score for free.
About the Author
Mike is a recognized credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff. His credit advice has been featured in Investopedia, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, Huffpost, The Simple Dollar, Reader's Digest, LendingTree, and Quickbooks. Read more.