Whether you are applying for a new credit card or taking out a mortgage to buy a home, a good credit score is essential.
Lenders offer better terms to borrowers with a good score, so you can expect lower rates and lower down payments. That’s why it pays to find out your score before approaching lenders.
Ever wonder how to check your credit score? Here are a few easy options.
What is a credit score?
Before obtaining your credit score, you should know what a credit score is. The score is a numerical representation of your default risk on loan repayments, with a low number representing a higher risk for the lender. Values derive from your credit history, and range from 300 to 850.
Types of credit scores
It’s important to know that you have more than one credit score. This is partly because lenders use different scoring formulas. Two of the most common formulas are FICO and VantageScore.
About 90 percent of the biggest lenders in the U.S. and the three national credit bureaus use the FICO score. As the credit history information that the bureaus hold is not always identical, your FICO scores may be different.
How to check your credit score
There are many ways to check your credit score. In some cases, you may have to pay a fee, but it is becoming increasingly easy to find out the information you need for free.
To learn your credit score, you might first try one of the three major U.S. credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Each offers a subscription-based service, providing FICO scores and a range of monitoring tools.
To be sure, the Fair Isaac Corp., or FICO, which created the FICO score, offers a similar subscription service through myFICO.com that includes either a credit report for a one-time fee or ongoing credit reports for a monthly fee. Both include your credit score.
Free scores from credit card issuers
Adding to the credit bureaus and myFICO, many credit card issuers provide free scores to customers through the FICO Score Open Access program.
Major issuers taking part in the program include: Discover, Citi, Chase, Bank of America, Barclaycard, Commerce Bank, American Express, First Bankcard, USAA Bank, US Bank and the Walmart Credit Card.
Eligibility for free scores varies between companies.
For example, in May 2016, Discover launched the Discover Credit Scorecard, a free service providing FICO scores to its customers as well as noncustomers. This made Discover the first credit card issuer to offer FICO scores to everyone for free.
In addition, cardholders with Barclaycards have access to free FICO scores via the company website. Commerce Bank customers have access to their scores automatically on monthly credit card statements, and Walmart Credit Card customers get free access to monthly scores if they sign up for electronic statements.
Other options for learning your credit score
In some cases, credit counselors can provide you with a free credit report and score.
You may have seen other websites advertising a “free credit score.” Some of those sites may be funded through advertising and can afford not to charge a fee as a result.
Other sites may require that you sign up for a credit monitoring service with a monthly subscription fee to get your “free” score. As long as you cancel the trial before it runs its course, you won’t have to pay that monthly subscription fee.
Staying on top of your credit score is important if you intend to apply for any kind of credit. If your score is too low, lenders will likely rate you as a subprime borrower and may turn your down for credit or offer you credit that carries high interest rates or require large down payments.
Fortunately, it’s easy to find out your current score, because the three major credit bureaus and many credit card companies provide scores for free.