Your credit score is just a number, but it can have a big impact on your life. If you have a good credit score, banks compete to lend you money at low interest rates. But if your score is low, you pay through the nose for everything from credit card interest to auto insurance.
Since your credit score affects you so much, it seems like you should have a right to know what it is. But as of now, the credit bureaus have no legal obligation to tell you.
Fortunately, there are ways to view your own credit score. A variety of services, both free and paid, let you check up on this important number and learn how it’s affecting your personal finances.
How to Check Your Credit Score
There are several ways to check your credit score.
Credit bureaus and credit score services can give you access to your score, either for free or for a one-time or monthly fee.
Some credit card issuers provide access to credit scores as a service for their customers.
And some nonprofit credit and housing counselors offer free credit reports and credit scores as part of their service.
1. Credit Bureaus
The three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — all offer services that allow you to view and track your credit score. Some of these services also provide credit monitoring and protection from identity theft.
Each credit bureau has several offerings with different price tags:
- Equifax. You can get a free credit score each month through Equifax Core Credit. For $4.99 a month, you can view your score daily with Equifax Credit Monitor and lock your Equifax credit report. And Equifax Complete, which costs $9.99 to $19.99 per month, offers additional monitoring and identity theft protection. All these services provide VantageScore credit scores rather than FICO scores.
- Experian. Experian’s CreditWorks service has two tiers. Its free Basic tier gives you monthly access to your Experian credit report and FICO score. Its Premium tier, which costs $24.99 a month, provides credit reports and scores from all three credit bureaus, plus identity theft protection. Experian also offers free credit score access through Experian Boost, a service that helps you improve your credit rating.
- TransUnion. TransUnion’s free service, TrueIdentity, lets you monitor your TransUnion credit report but not your credit score. To view that, you must pay $24.95 per month for TransUnion credit monitoring. It provides daily updates to your credit report and VantageScore, recommendations to improve your credit, and the ability to lock your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports.
2. Free Credit Score Services
Some financial websites offer access to your credit score at no cost. Many of them also include other features, such as budgeting, bill payment, or credit monitoring.
Free credit score sites include:
- SoFi. The free Credit Insights by SoFi Relay service provides access to your VantageScore from TransUnion, updated weekly. It also provides insight into what affects your credit score and tips on how to improve it.
- Credit Karma. A free subscription to Credit Karma gives you access to your VantageScores from both TransUnion and Equifax. Both scores are updated daily. The site also offers tools such as debt repayment and loan calculators.
- Credit Sesame. The free version of Credit Sesame provides your VantageScore from TransUnion only. It also gives you credit monitoring alerts and $1 million in identity theft insurance. For $15.95 a month, you can upgrade to the Premium version and get monthly credit reports and credit scores from all three credit bureaus.
- LendingTree. A free LendingTree account gives you access to your Transunion VantageScore and tips on building and repairing credit. You also get the service’s main feature, the ability to comparison shop quickly for loan products.
- Mint. Mint is a free financial app that includes credit monitoring, budgeting, account tracking, and goal setting. The credit score it provides is your VantageScore from TransUnion.
- FICO. Although the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) doesn’t let you view your actual credit score for free, its free Credit Score Estimator can give you a rough estimate of it. It asks basic questions about your credit history, such as how many credit cards you have, to give you a ballpark credit score range of about 50 points.
The way most of these free sites make their money is through partnerships with other financial companies. When you log in to your account, you see offers from these partners for products like credit cards and loans. If you sign up for a product, the site gets a fee for the referral.
3. Paid Credit Score Services
Most free credit score sites provide either a VantageScore or a ballpark estimate of your credit. However, the score lenders use most is your FICO score. According to CNBC, this type of credit score plays a role in over 90% of all lending decisions.
If you want to see your actual FICO score, you’ll probably have to pay for it. One place to get it is from FICO itself. The company’s myFICO service gives you a one-time look at your credit score from a single credit bureau for $16.
In addition, FICO and several other companies offer paid credit monitoring services. These services provide you with regular updates on your credit report and score for a monthly fee. Most services charge somewhere between $10 and $40 per month.
You can test many of these services for a trial period at a reduced price. These trial offers can give you a quick peek at your credit score for free or for a modest fee. However, you have to make sure to cancel the service before your trial period expires. Miss that deadline by even one minute, and you’re charged automatically for the next month at full price.
4. Your Bank or Credit Card Provider
An increasing number of banks and other credit card issuers offer free monthly credit scores to their customers. These include Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo.
Some credit card issuers include your credit score on your monthly credit card bill. Others give you access to it in your online account or via a mobile app. Some provide a FICO score, while others use the VantageScore model.
With some companies, you don’t even have to be a customer to get a free credit score. For instance, anyone can sign up for Credit Journey from Chase, even without a Chase account.
5. Credit Counselor
A credit counselor’s main job is to help people get out of debt. They can help them learn to budget better, set up a debt management plan, or apply for bankruptcy. As part of this service, many credit counselors provide free access to your credit report and credit score.
However, you need to use caution when hiring a credit counselor. Many so-called credit counseling services are actually credit repair scams. Be wary of any service that:
- Charges an up-front fee before providing any services
- Urges you to dispute accurate information in your credit report
- Doesn’t explain your rights as a consumer
- Tells you not to contact the credit bureaus directly
To find a legitimate credit counselor, check the list of approved agencies provided by the U.S. Department of Justice. You can also visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website to connect with a nonprofit credit counselor.
6. Housing Counselor
Just as credit counselors help people deal with debt, HUD-approved housing counselors help them with housing issues. They offer advice on dealing with landlords, buying a home, avoiding foreclosure, and handling debt default. This process can include reviewing your credit report and credit score.
Nonprofit housing counselors offer their service at little or no cost to those who need it. To find one, visit the website of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Enter your zip code to see a list of local agencies, then look for ones that offer credit repair workshops.
Understanding Your Credit Score
Your credit score is essentially a measure of your creditworthiness. In other words, it shows the chances that, if someone lent you money, you would pay it back in full and on time. If you’ve borrowed money from different sources and always paid it back promptly, you’ll have a high score. Problems such as late payments, default, or bankruptcy can add up to a low score.
The actual number is calculated based on information in your credit report — or, to be more exact, your three credit reports. You have a separate report from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
These three companies receive information from lenders about your credit accounts and your payment history. They learn how much money you’ve borrowed over the years and how reliably you’ve paid it back.
At this point, the Fair Isaac Corporation steps in. FICO has created a proprietary formula that uses the information from your credit reports to produce a number between 300 and 850. This number is your FICO credit score.
When people talk about your credit score, they usually mean your FICO score. However, some lenders prefer to use the newer VantageScore, developed by the three credit bureaus working in cooperation. The current version of this credit scoring model is called VantageScore 3.0.
If you request your credit score from all three bureaus, their numbers may not be the same. That’s because they’re based on three different credit reports, and the information in those reports may not match exactly.
For example, one bureau could have your credit card bill from last month, when you racked up $2,000 in charges, while another has your bill from this month, when you charged only $500. But in general, both your FICO score and your VantageScore should be pretty similar at all three bureaus.
Why You Should Check Your Credit Score
Lenders use your credit score to decide whether to loan you money. The higher your score, the better your chances of getting a loan, and the lower the interest rate on that loan is likely to be.
However, some financial gurus claim that credit scores don’t really matter unless you plan to borrow money. For instance, Dave Ramsey says your credit score is really an “I love debt” score. If you pay for everything with cash, he argues, there’s no need to worry about your credit rating.
This is a misconception. These days, it’s not just lenders who want to know your credit score. Plenty of individuals and companies, from insurers to potential employers, pull your credit to get an idea of how trustworthy you are.
This means that if your credit is poor, you may not just have a hard time getting a car loan — you may also pay more to insure the car once you’ve bought it. You may also be turned down for an apartment rental or even a job. So even if you have no plans to borrow money any time soon, it’s useful to know your score and, if it’s low, take steps to bump it up.
Checking your credit regularly can also help you catch mistakes that may be damaging your score. In a 2021 study by Consumer Reports, more than one in three respondents found errors in their credit reports — including errors big enough to affect their credit scores.
Credit report errors vary in significance. For example, your report might show a missed payment that was actually just late. But more seriously, it might show accounts in your name that you never opened — a sign that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Checking your credit lets you find and fix such errors promptly before they cause major harm to your credit score.
With more and more financial institutions hopping on the free-score bandwagon, there’s a good chance everyone who has a FICO score may one day have the opportunity to check it on a regular basis. Until then, free and paid services can help you stay on top of your credit.
Along with your credit score, make a point of checking the credit report it’s based on. You can receive a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. To get yours, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
Checking both your credit report and your credit score regularly can help you avoid unpleasant surprises when you want to borrow money. And it can let you know what kind of shape your credit is in, so you can work on giving your credit rating a boost if it needs one.