How to Check Your Credit Score & Report for Free

What Is a FICO Score?

A FICO® Score is a credit score that’s developed and offered by FICO®. The company, originally named Fair Isaac Corporation, released its first credit bureau-based credit score in the 1980s. Since then, FICO® has created different types of credit scores and released new versions of its scores that have updated how calculations are made.

For example, FICO® offers base FICO® Scores, such as FICO® Score 8, FICO® Score 9 and, its latest, FICO® Score 10. These are general-use scores designed for use by multiple types of lenders for a wide range of credit products. FICO® also publishes industry-specific credit scores, such as the FICO® Auto Score for auto lenders and FICO® Bankcard Score for use by credit card issuers.

The base scores range from 300 to 850, while industry-specific scores range from 250 to 900. Both types of scores are intended to predict the same thing: the likelihood that someone will be 90 days late on a payment within 24 months. FICO® does this by analyzing the information within your consumer credit reports from either Experian, TransUnion or Equifax.

FICO® builds different scoring models to align with how each bureau stores your information. Earlier versions of FICO® Scores even had different names based on the bureau, including the models that are still commonly used for mortgage underwriting:

  • Experian/Fair Isaac Risk Model v2 (FICO® Score 2)
  • Equifax Beacon 5.0 (FICO® Score 5)
  • TransUnion FICO® Risk Score 04 (FICO® Score 4)

Since the release of FICO® Score 8, each new base model has used the same version number across all three bureaus, but the models are still customized with the bureau in mind. VantageScore®, another credit scoring company, uses a tri-bureau model that scores credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion using the same methods.

FICO® and VantageScore credit scores are the most widely used credit scores, but other credit scoring companies are out there. For example, large creditors may use custom-built credit scores to help them evaluate new and current customers, and companies may publish educational credit scores for their customers to refer to. Educational scores may accurately assess your creditworthiness, but they shouldn’t be relied on when making a decision to apply for credit since they can differ significantly from the scores used by lenders.

Why Should I Check My Credit Report Regularly?

Your credit is important because many companies use it to predict future financial behaviors. So the better your credit, the better your chances of qualifying for things like credit cards, loans, mortgages and other credit products. And the better your rates and terms might be. 

By monitoring your credit, you may be better prepared as you apply for loans. And it can give you an idea of areas where you can work to improve your credit

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Is Credit Karma Really Free?

Yes. Credit Karma will not charge you any fees. You can apply for loans through the site, and the company will collect a fee if you do.

How to Get Your FICO Score

There are several ways to get your FICO® Scores, both for free and at a cost.

You can get your FICO® Score for free from hundreds of financial services companies, including banks, credit unions, credit card issuers and credit counselors that participate in the FICO® Score Open Access program and offer free scores to customers.

For example, if you sign up for a free credit score from Experian, you’ll get a FICO® Score 8 along with a copy of your credit report. Unlike some services that only track and show you your score, you’ll then be able to review the underlying information (the credit report) that led to the score. Signing up for the Experian CreditWorksSM Premium program will provide access to your base FICO® Score 8 as well as your FICO® Score 2, FICO® Auto Score 2 and FICO® Bankcard Score 2.

FICO® also sells scores on myFICO.com and authorizes “FICO® Score retailers.” These companies may offer free or paid access to FICO® Scores to consumers, and sometimes include additional products or services with your score.

Checking with your bank or current credit card issuers is another option you may have. For example, American Express cardholders can get a FICO® Score 8 based on their Experian credit report and Citi cardholders can get a FICO® Bankcard Score 8 based on their Equifax credit report.

Fourth Stop: Contact the Expert (about freakin time)

Looking to sort through the credit score maze, I contacted personal finance guru and author of Your Credit Score, Your Money and What’s at Stake, Liz Weston and explained my situation to her.

First, Liz explained to me my Credit Sesame score. 

“It is true that the scores many consumers get aren’t FICOs, and these ‘consumer education’ scores can be 30 to 100 points higher than your FICOs.”

Okay, great!  Consumer education scores.  That helps a ton! I quickly began to realize there are several different types of credit scores.  So in fact, Credit Sesame’s credit score gives you a general range of where your credit score is at.  My score there wasn’t too far off, so at least it gave me a good starting point.   Now, what about the “mortgage report credit scores”

Liz had an idea but verified with a contact at FICO – nothing like going straight to the source!  She states,

“It was my understanding that most mortgage lenders use the classic FICO score, which is what you get at MyFico.com. The scores will be different day-to-day (and even sometimes intraday) because the information in your credit files is constantly changing.

I’m not sure what your banker means when he says Fannie and Freddie worked with the bureaus to changed the FICO formulas, since they (none of them, the agencies or the bureaus) wouldn’t be able to do that. That’s FICO (Fair Isaac’s) purview.

But this wouldn’t be the first time a banker or mortgage lender gave bad info. There’s a whole chapter in my credit scoring book devoted to myths perpetrated by those who should know better.”

She later confirmed that the banker was off in his statement.  In my banker’s defense, this stuff is really confusing – obviously.  Liz adds,

“Fannie and Freddie don’t do anything in concert when it comes to risk-evaluation tools, and neither do the bureaus, other than creating VantageScore as a would-be competitor to FICO (not that VS made much headway).

Fannie and Freddie are evaluating a version of the FICO called the FICO 8 Mortgage Score, but they have yet to tell the mortgage industry that they will accept that score instead of a classic FICO.

The FICO 8 Mortgage Score was introduced to lenders from Equifax in March but just became available to lenders from TransUnion and Experian last month, so your lender couldn’t have been using it to generate scores from all three bureaus earlier this year.

The FICO 8 Mortgage Score does give more weight to a person’s mortgage history, but not to collections. This is in line with other versions of the FICO, such as the one for the auto lending industry that gives more emphasis to a person’s auto loan history.”

There you have it. This is probably more information than you ever wanted to know about your credit score, but at least now I have a better understanding.

If you have a question for Liz, check out her site Ask Liz Weston.

  This lady knows her stuff.  Thanks Liz for helping out!

What does a credit score mean?

Your credit score is a numerical representation of your credit report that represents your creditworthiness. Scores can also be referred to as credit ratings, and sometimes as a FICO® Score, created by Fair Isaac Corporation, and typically range from 300 to 850.

FICO® Scores are comprised of five components that have associated weights:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Amounts owed: 30%
  • Length of credit history: 15%
  • How many types of credit in use: 10%
  • Account inquiries: 10% 

Lenders use your credit score to evaluate your credit risk – generally, the higher your credit score, the lower your risk may be to the lender. To learn more, view how your credit score is calculated.

Did you know? Wells Fargo offers eligible customers free access to their FICO® Score ― plus tools, tips, and much more. Learn how to access your FICO Score.

Why Should You Check Your Credit Report?

Mistakes happen. In fact, a study finds that 34% of consumers have at least one error on their credit report. These errors can affect your ability to get approved or cause you to pay higher rates when you are approved. The only way to verify that your credit report contains the right information is to review the information on an ongoing basis.

3. Citibank® credit cards

Another credit card issuer that will provide your FICO® score for free (for select Citi cards) is Citibank. Scores are based on your Equifax® credit reports and they update on a monthly basis.

Is Credit Karma Accurate?

Though the FICO score is arguably the best-known credit score (and the one that nearly every personal finance guru will advise you to track), many people aren’t aware that FICO doesn’t actually collect information. FICO is a model used to create a score by looking at your files from the three major credit reporting bureaus

Credit Karma’s VantageScore follows much the same process, except that its scoring model was actually created by the credit bureaus. Although VantageScore is less known to the public, it claims to score 30 million more people than any other model. One advantage is that it scores people with little credit history, otherwise known as having a “thin” credit file. If you’re young or have recently come to live in the U.S., that could be an important factor.

Credit Karma isn’t a credit bureau, meaning they don't gather information from creditors. The credit scores and reports you see on Credit Karma reflect your credit information as reported by TransUnion and Equifax, two of the major consumer credit bureaus. These scores are not estimates of your credit rating, which makes them accurate and reliable.

The credit scores and reports you see on Credit Karma come directly from TransUnion and Equifax, two of the three major consumer credit bureaus. The credit scores and reports you see on Credit Karma should accurately reflect your credit information as reported by those credit bureaus.

Credit Karma Vantage Scores Investopedia reached out to Credit Karma to ask why consumers should trust Credit Karma to provide them with a score that is an accurate representation of their creditworthiness. Bethy Hardeman, the former chief consumer advocate at Credit Karma, responded: “The scores and credit report information on Credit Karma comes from TransUnion and Equifax, two of the three major credit bureaus.” “We provide VantageScore credit scores independently from both credit bureaus. Credit Karma chose VantageScore because it’s a collaboration among all three major credit bureaus and is a transparent scoring model, which can help consumers better understand changes to their credit score.”

Second Stop: My Banker

We just completed the building of our dream home earlier this year and refinanced when rates dropped a few months back, so I knew that my bank would have our most recent credit scores.  I contacted my banker to see what scores they had on me.

This is what I got from them:

“776 / 765 / 773    These are from all three credit bureaus.  Also, these are mortgage report credit scores which will be lower than credit scores that you would pull.”

Did you catch that?  Look again:

“….these are mortgage report credit scores…..”

Mortgage report credit scores….what the heck is that? (this is the classic phrase that my Phillipino mother says all the time.  Love you mom!)  Now thoroughly perplexed, I emailed my banker to see exactly what that meant.  His second response: (I’m sure he’s loving me by the way)

“I found out about a year ago, that Freddie & Fannie had been working with the three credit bureaus to set up a scoring model for the purpose of mortgage loan requests.  The mortgage scoring is tougher then the normal consumer scoring.  Both are FICO scores utilizing the same system, but as one example, consumer models don’t give a lot of weight to collection items, whereas the mortgage scoring system does.  People who have collection items on their credit will score lower with the mortgage scoring system then the traditional consumer scoring system.  That’s one of the examples, but since FICO is a proprietary system, the public knows very little about the full details that go into your score.”

After I read the email, this was my response:  Huh?

I knew at this time I was in way over my head.

Just like a typical male that won’t stop to ask directions when he’s completely lost, I trudged on hoping to find my answer of what my real credit score is. Next stop MyFico.com.

After going through this process, I have also learned that CreditKarma.com is also another option in retrieving your free credit score.  They pull your credit score from TransUnion.

Where Can I Check My Credit Scores and Reports?

There are a number of places where you can check your credit reports and scores. Just be aware that some of those places may charge you for the information. To check your credit scores or reports, you could:  

Monitoring your credit can help you understand where you stand. But it’s important to note that decisions about loan applications or credit cards are ultimately up to each lender. And because there are multiple scores and reports out there, what you see in reports and scores you’re given might not be exactly the same as what lenders use to judge creditworthiness.

1. Discover Credit Scorecard

One of the best ways to access your FICO® credit score for free is through Discover Credit Scorecard. This program is free whether you are a Discover customer or not.

To get started, you’ll be asked for some personal information, including your Social Security number. Then you will be asked a few questions to help verify your identity. You might be wondering how this will affect your credit. Since there is no hard inquiry, it won’t have a negative effect on your credit. And — luckily — this is the situation for all six ways on our list to access your FICO® scores for free.

With the Discover Credit Scorecard, your score is updated every 30 days, and you will never be penalized for checking your score. While you are working to build your credit, you can use the Discover Credit Scorecard to help track your FICO® score.

In addition to having access to your free FICO® credit score each month, you will be able to learn more about the factors that make up your scores. Discover Credit Scorecard can help you dive into the things that are helping your credit score, as well as what might be keeping your score down.

How’s your credit? Check My Equifax® and TransUnion® Scores Now

Who we are

myFICO is the official consumer division of FICO, the company that invented the FICO credit score. FICO® Scores are the most widely used credit scores, and have been an industry standard for more than 25 years.

How We Chose the Best Free Credit Reports

We evaluated and selected the best free credit reports based on a few factors, including the number of credit reports you can access, the frequency of updates, the ease of understanding the information, the ease of signing up for a new account, and whether a free credit score or analysis was also included. We excluded any companies that required credit card information to sign up or that only offered a free credit report on a trial basis.

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