Just like keeping a close eye on your weight is a good idea if you want to maintain good health, monitoring your credit scores is also a smart move if you want to maintain your credit health. In recent years it has become easier than ever to check your credit scores based on your data from the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
In fact, thanks to the evolution of the credit score from a lenders-only risk assessment tool, to a product sold to consumers, to a loss leader, there are now many different ways you can check your credit scores without having to pay a dime.
There is Still No Free Credit Score Entitlement
Since 2003, Americans have had the right to claim free copies of their credit reports from the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) once every 12 months. You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to claim your freebies. You are not, however, entitled to a free annual credit score.
Have you ever wondered why not? For starters, although you have only three credit reports, you do not have just three credit scores. Hundreds of credit scores are commercially available and the federal government has not made it a requirement for the creators of these scores to provide you with free annual copies of all of them. It would be quite a mess if they were required to do so.
To put it in perspective, under the two most common credit score brands, FICO and VantageScore, there are over five dozen credit scores commercially available. That doesn’t include the much larger army of custom-built credit scores that most mid- and large-sized lenders use. Point being, you don’t have “a” credit score.
Enter the Free Credit Score Websites and Apps
It is still possible to see your credit scores without paying for them, just not thanks to statute. A number of different companies are happy to give away one or more variations of your credit scores at no charge. Most of these companies will offer you a free credit score, or multiple scores, in exchange for you allowing them to market financial products to you.
Despite the funny commercials about free credit scores, there really is no such thing as a free score. The scores that are given to you for free are just free to you. The companies that give you these scores purchase them in bulk from the credit bureaus and then hand them over to you at no cost. Both FICO and VantageScore credit scores are commonly given away through a number of partnerships.
VantageScore Solutions lists the companies that give away their credit scores at no cost, here. And it’s pretty safe to say that if you have a credit card with almost any major card issuer, you can get a FICO score from them at no cost to you.
If you don’t have a credit card that gives away free FICO scores, Discover Card Services will gladly give you one, here. You don’t have to have a Discover Card in order to take advantage of the freebie offer. The more sources that offer free credit scores, the better for consumers. But, you should keep a few things in mind when accessing free credit scores online.
First, pay attention to which credit report(s) and score(s) you are actually receiving. No company gives away all three of your credit reports with credit scores at no cost. If you want to see scores from all three CRAs, you’ll need to pull out your wallet.
Second, pay attention to which of your credit score(s) you are actually receiving. Many websites give away VantageScore credit scores. The VantageScore credit score, like FICO, is another widely used scoring system. Over the 12-month period from July 2017 to July 2018, roughly 10.5 billion of their scores were used.
Regardless of whether you’re getting a FICO score, a VantageScore, or some other score, they all have value because they all give you an idea of the health of your credit reports.
What’s a Conditionally Free Credit Score?
When it comes to accessing your credit scores, it may help to understand the difference between “free” and “conditionally free.” If a website or app requires you to input your credit card information at any point, you are not getting a truly free credit score but are instead getting a “conditionally” free score.
For example, some websites may offer you a free or inexpensive trial of a credit monitoring service. In exchange for signing up for the trial offer, you may be offered a copy of your credit report and what appears to be a free credit score. These websites will ask you for your credit card information.
When you sign up for one of these conditionally free credit services you must proactively cancel the service before the free trial period expires. If you fail or forget to cancel, you will be charged a monthly fee in perpetuity until you do cancel. Fees for monthly credit monitoring services generally run about $20 per month but can be considerably more expensive.
Many Credit Card Issuers Give Away Free Scores
Not only can you access credit scores free of charge from a variety of different websites and apps, but there is also a really good chance that your credit card issuer gives away free credit scores as well.
Lenders and credit card issuers who give away free FICO scores participate in a program known as “FICO Score Open Access.” You can find a long list of participating companies on FICO’s website.
Whether you realize it or not, your credit card issuer is most likely checking your credit score every month as part of its account management practices. Card issuers like to keep an eye on your credit to make sure your level of risk has not increased. These monthly credit checks are important because card issuers are lending you money every single month rather than just one single time.
Typically credit card issuers will purchase one or more of your scores from either Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian every month. In recent years it has become common for card issuers to share those scores, originally purchased for account management purposes, with their customers. These scores, as with all free scores, were purchased for commercial use by a company and then given away to a consumer at no cost.
Should I Ever Buy My Credit Scores?
I get this question from time to time and I always give the same answer. There are so many ways to get free scores that I can’t think of a reason to buy them at this point. The scores you would buy, in most instances, are the exact same scores you can get for free elsewhere.
So, the next time you go online looking for a free credit score, I’d suggest you keep your credit card in your wallet because you’re not going to need it.