Before you apply for a new credit card or any new loan, you need to know your credit score.
There are many ways to get a free credit score, but it’s essential to understand which score you’re seeing and what it means.
Table of Contents
- Your FICO score and VantageScore aren’t the same
- If you’re getting a free credit score from Credit Karma, Chase Credit Journey or one of the credit bureaus, you’re probably seeing your VantageScore
- If you’re getting your free credit score through a traditional financial institution like a bank or credit union, you’re probably getting a FICO score
- Both the FICO and VantageScore numbers are accurate, but you need to check both to accurately assess the rates you’ll be asked to pay
- It’s impossible to know which model each lender uses to determine your creditworthiness, but most mortgage and auto lenders will usually use the FICO model
How to Check Your Credit Score for Free
Though many banks, credit unions, credit card companies and credit services offer free credit scores, some are better than others. If you’re shopping for a car or home or need a major loan, look for a source that provides your FICO score. Your VantageScore will likely be fine if you’re applying for a new credit card.
Pro tip: VantageScore was developed in 2006 by the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. If you’re getting a credit score through one of these credit bureaus or a service like Credit Karma, you’re seeing your VantageScore.
Some credit card companies often offer a free credit score, but you should check to see whether the score you’re seeing is a FICO score or a VantageScore.
Places that Provide a Free FICO Score
Here are some good places to check if you need to learn your FICO score.
Discover Credit Scorecard
A Discover Credit Scorecard includes your FICO credit score and a summary of information about the total number of accounts, length of credit, recent inquiries, revolving credit utilization and missed payments.
And you don’t need a Discover credit card for a free credit score. Visit the website and sign up for free with your name, address, and general information.
American Express Credit Cards
American Express offers cardholders access to their free FICO score, as well as 12 months of FICO score history. The FICO score given is based on the Experian® credit report and the FICO score is available through your online American Express account and updated periodically.
Citibank Credit Cards
Citibank is another credit card issuer that gives your FICO score for free (for select Citi cards). Scores are based on your Equifax credit reports and are updated monthly.
Bank of America
BofA offers eligible cardholders free access to their FICO score and the score is based on your TransUnion credit report. It is updated monthly in addition to providing a few useful charts.
The first chart shows recent scores over time and the ability to see the month-to-month performance. This can be helpful if you’ve been working to up your credit while the other chart shows national FICO score averages.
If you don’t use credit cards or are just starting to build credit, try getting a free FICO score from a credit union. Not all credit unions offer this service, but if you’re a member of one, you might be able to get it — it’s worth asking. Some larger credit unions offering free FICO scores include Navy Federal Credit Union and DCU (Digital Federal) Credit Union.
If you’re hoping to buy a new vehicle, Ally Bank offers consumers a free FICO score if you use its Ally Auto Online Services or its Ally Auto Mobile Pay app.
Places that Provide a Free VantageScore
A VantageScore won’t be the same number as your FICO score, but will give you some insight into your overall creditworthiness. Here are a few places that provide free VantageScores.
Chase Credit Journey
Chase offers a free credit score through its Chase Credit Journey program. You don’t have to be a Chase customer or cardholder to sign up.
Chase Credit Journey offers your Experian score, plus data on your credit usage, total balance, the average age of your account and your credit usage, plus some quick tips to improve your score.
At Credit Karma, you can check your free credit reports from Equifax and TransUnion as often as you wish. Its free credit-monitoring service can also alert you to important changes on your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports. Along with checking your credit scores regularly, this service sends an alert to keep track of any unusual activity. Create a username and password, and Social Security number. You must be at least 18 years old to sign up for a Credit Karma account.
Credit Sesame pulls your credit information from TransUnion which can be done in 90 seconds. You can do a free credit check once a month with a basic account or get daily free credit checks with a premium account. Once you open your new account, you will get an instant credit check from TransUnion using VantageScore 3.0, which calculates credit scores.
Need a free credit score? Here are a few other ways to get one:
FICO vs. VantageScore
FICO and VantageScore use different algorithms to compile your credit score.
A FICO Score is the number used to determine someone’s creditworthiness, the credit score. Financial institutions and lenders use it when deciding how much credit a borrower can offer and the interest rate to be assigned. Scores range from 300 to 850.
It’s better to have a FICO score higher than 670 if you’re applying for financing. A score of 670 and up is considered a good credit score.
A VantageScore 3.0 range follows FICO’s scoring range but instead of scoring consumers on the original scale of 501 to 990, the new credit scoring model uses the 300 to 850 range. Like FICO, credit scores range from 300 to 850, but the breakdown is a bit different:
VantageScore 3.0 uses six categories when calculating a credit score, such as payment history and utilization.
|FICO score range
|Excellent credit score
|800 and up
|781 and up
|Very good credit score
|740 to 799
|661 to 780
|Good credit score
|670 to 739
|601 to 660
|Fair credit score
|580 to 669
|500 to 600
|Poor credit score
|300 to 579
|300 to 499
How Your Credit Score is Compiled
Many people don’t know how their credit score is compiled. That’s because it’s different between the two scoring models. To further complicate the issue, some lenders use VantageScore 3.0, while others use the newer VantageScore 4.0.
Here is a breakdown of how each score is compiled:
|35% payment history
|40% payment history
|41% payment history
|30% amounts owed (credit utilization ratio)
|21% depth of credit
|20% depth of credit
|15% length of credit history (credit age)
|20% credit utilization
|20% credit utilization
|10% new credit
|10% credit mix
|5% recent credit
|11% recent credit
|3% available credit
|2% available credit
Credit Inquiries Can Also Affect Your Credit Score
An inquiry is a request to look at your credit file and falls into one of two types: hard or soft.
When you apply for new credit, lenders check your credit score. Virtually all lenders will run what’s known as a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries will only happen when you formally submit a loan application.
If you’re seeking prequalification (or applying for a job), the lender will run what’s known as a soft inquiry. This will not affect your credit score.
Predatory lenders like title lenders and payday lenders who advertise “no credit check” will not run a hard inquiry, but they may run a soft inquiry to ensure that you have any credit history at all.
How to Get a Free Credit Report
Sometimes when you look at your credit report, you’ll also see your VantageScore. But if you request a free credit score, you won’t be looking at your credit report. Your credit report contains very detailed information about your accounts, while your credit score is more generalized. If you check your credit score and it is lower than you expected, checking your credit report is the next logical step. Sometimes you will find mistakes on your credit reports that are driving your score down. Fixing those mistakes is an easy — and free — way to give your credit score a boost.
A credit report summarizes all your credit history and gives a full and accurate picture of how you have paid your debts, when and if you missed any payments, etc.
What Does a Credit Report Show?
- Your name
- Your address(es)
- Social Security number
- Your credit information
- Types of credit you often use
- Dates of new credit lines
- Balances and available credit
- Accounts that are currently in or have been in collections
- Any recent credit activity
- Information related to bankruptcy, tax liens, and/or court judgments
How to Get a Free Credit Report
You may obtain a copy of your credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Transunion – at annualcreditreport.com or via any of the bureaus. Federal law states that all three credit bureaus must provide a free credit report to each consumer every 12 months if requested.
Why is My Credit Score Important?
Lenders widely and often utilize a credit score to make lending decisions when you’re applying for a new loan, different credit accounts, etc. Credit card issuers use the report and the score to determine if you qualify for a new account and what credit limit to offer you. Credit health will also determine the interest rate you will pay for home and other personal loans.
Do I Need a Credit Monitoring Service?
Sometimes people opt for credit monitoring services to keep track of their credit. Credit monitoring services track credit reports for changes and may also track adjustments to your credit score depending on the service.
While you probably don’t need to pay for a credit monitoring service unless you’ve already been a victim of ID theft, there are several free credit monitoring services such as CreditWise from Capital One and Experian.
These alert you whenever there’s a hard inquiry on your account, and a legitimate credit monitoring service will also notify you when:
- Your credit score’s three-digit number goes up or down.
- A new account is opened be it a department store, bank, loan, etc.
- There is an adjustment to a credit card balance or credit utilization rate.
- There’s a late payment which could help if you forgot.
- Derogatory credit information is added and lets you know fast.
- There’s an update to your personal information (name, address, etc.), which could help if you move, change your marital status, etc.
The Bottom Line
Before you even start thinking about any big purchase or move, you must learn your credit score and know where you stand with your credit. If your score is less than ideal, there are several steps you can take to build it back up before you need to submit your loan application.
Typically, credit scores will fall between 300 to 850; higher credit scores can show lenders that you have a strong history of responsibly managing your credit and debt. Lower credit scores indicate that you may pose a higher borrowing risk, so they’ll probably charge you a higher interest rate. The minimum credit score to get a loan generally ranges from 610 to 640. If you’re close to that range, review your credit reports and see if there are any steps you can take to bump your score up quickly. If not, you can still qualify for a loan through some lenders, but it will be considered a bad credit loan and you’ll pay a significantly higher interest rate.
According to Consumer Reports, over one-third of Americans have found an error on their credit reports, so it’s essential to check. To dispute an error, you’ll need to contact the credit reporting agency and the company that provided the information as soon as possible. Then follow these steps to get it fixed.
There are many different ways to improve your credit score. For example, you can try signing up for a program like Experian Boost, which earns you points when you pay routine bills that aren’t generally reported to the credit bureaus. But the most important way is to make sure you make all of your payments on time and catch up on any past-due accounts.