The best things in life may be free, but some things in life are worth paying for. While I think that getting a credit score sometimes falls into the latter category, if you can get one for free … what a country!
The Fair Credit Reporting Act guaranteed consumers free copies of their credit reports. That same act did not include free credit scores. It does, however, say that the cost of the scores must be “reasonable.”
The elves at FICO can spot a good business opportunity a mile away so it’s no surprise that, in response, FICO launched its Open Access program in 2013. Under the Open Access program lenders can offer their customers the FICO score used in their lending decision for free (after they of course paid to use it themselves).
But if your lender is not part of this program, is there still a way to get a free score? I’m happy to say there is. Read on to find out more.
Which credit card issuers offer free credit scores?
Any consumer can purchase their score through any of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, TransUnion—or get their FICO score directly from FICO. Sometimes it makes sense to purchase a score, as we will discuss further below, but there are ways to get a free score. One of those may be in your wallet right now in the form of a credit card.
Wait, doesn’t using a credit card mean I am paying for it? Not if said credit card offers free credit scores (and reports) as part of the benefit package to their customers. Among this group are American Express, Bank of America, Barclaycard U.S., Capital One, Chase, Citi, Discover, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo. In addition, some offer their service free to anyone (not just their customers), including American Express, Capital One, Chase and Discover.
It is important to note that what is offered by each card issuer varies. Generally speaking, each offers a version of either a FICO score or a VantageScore based on a credit report from one of the three credit bureaus.
- American Express has MyCredit Guide, which offers a VantageScore from TransUnion, and as noted above, is available to anyone.
- Bank of America offers free FICO scores from TransUnion to its credit card customers.
- Barclaycard also offers its customers free FICO scores almost exclusively using TransUnion reports, through the above-mentioned Open Access program from FICO.
- Both Capital One’s CreditWise program and Chase’s Credit Journey are open to all, using TransUnion to generate a VantageScore 3.0.
- Citi cardholders can get their FICO score monthly from an Equifax report, depending on which card they own.
- Discover’s Credit Scorecard is another program open to anyone, offering a FICO 8 score based on an Experian report.
- U.S. Bank partners with TransUnion to offer its customers a VantageScore 3.0.
- Finally, Wells Fargo uses Experian to generate a FICO score for its eligible online customers.
Are free credit scores the same as the ones lenders use?
Ah, here’s the rub. This can be tricky to navigate, unless you are getting your score from a lender in the FICO Open Access program. The problem is, there are many versions of both FICO and VantageScore and which one your lender uses can be difficult to pinpoint.
It doesn’t hurt to ask when you apply which score and credit bureau’s report is used and I recommend you do that, but it still may be that the score your lender has won’t exactly match yours. It should be relatively close, however. If it is not and you are denied credit, you have the right to know why. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has your back on this based on the equal opportunity rights afforded to all consumers by the Federal Trade Commission.
When should you consider buying your credit score?
Big-ticket items, especially mortgages, may be a time when you want to buy your score directly. You will need to know which score your lender will use and, again, it might not match exactly. But purchasing the specific score from the specific bureau(s) that your lender uses may give you a better picture of where you stand with your lender.
This is especially true if you are on the borderline between one score tier and another. Those few points can mean thousands of dollars over the life of a mortgage, so shelling out a few bucks for a score may be a small price to pay in the long run. The same could be said of student loans and car payments, depending on the length of the loan you are considering.
This is a personal choice for sure, so be sure to weigh all of your options before you proceed. Good luck!
Have a credit score question for Steve? Drop him a line at the Ask Bankrate Experts page.