Knowing your credit score is an essential part of your financial wellbeing.
You’ve probably heard of your FICO score, but perhaps you’re not as familiar with the VantageScore, which is a separate credit score that’s grown in popularity.
Regardless of the exact credit score in question, you may believe that access to your credit scores is expensive or exclusive.
But that’s not really true.
In recent years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has pushed for consumers to have no-cost access to the same credit information that your creditors have.
As a result of that push, and due to increased competition and enhanced credit education efforts by various companies, you can now access your FICO credit score as well as your VantageScore free of charge.
While both credit scores are separate and distinct from one another, they each rank your credit worthiness based on a scale of 300 to 850 points.
Here’s an overview of how you can take advantage of getting your free credit scores and stay on top of one of the most important numbers for your financial future.
How Can I Get My Free FICO Score or VantageScore?
Banks and Lenders
Once place to get your free FICO credit score or free VantageScore is from banks, credit unions and other lenders.
It makes sense that institutions that are responsible for dealing in finance and their customer’s wealth should extend their financial knowledge to their clients.
So if you have a credit card through your bank, you can often view your FICO score or VantageScore by visiting:
· your account online, or
· FICO’s Score Open Access program.
A partial list of banks that offer this service and access to your credit scores include:
- American Express (FICO Score)
- CapitalOne (VantageScore)
- Citi (FICO Score)
- Chase (FICO Score)
- Discover (FICO Score)
- First Bankcard (FICO Score)
- Merrick Bank (FICO Score)
- USAA (VantageScore)
Have a checking account but no credit card? Don’t despair. Some banks may allow you to view your FICO score or VantageScore. Check with your bank to see if this service is offered.
Belong to a credit union? If so, you may have the same free access to your FICO score (depending on the institution). Check with your credit union to see if you can access this information. Some participating credit unions include:
- State Employees Credit Union of North Carolina (FICO Score)
- Pentagon Federal Credit Union (FICO Score)
- San Jose’s Technology Credit Union (FICO Score)
Are you currently financing your vehicle through an auto financing company? If so, you may be entitled to viewing your VantageScore or FICO score. A short list companies that participate include:
If you’ve recently gone to college or co-signed for your children’s Sallie Mae Smart Option student loans, you are entitled to see your FICO score. Click here to access your score, as well as other pertinent information to your loan.
If you’re looking for your free FICO score and expert insight to your credit history (and future), consider consulting a non-profit credit counselor. Their information is sourced from Experian, a credit-reporting agency, and through FICO’s Score Open Access for Credit & Financial Counseling program. Consider contacting credit counselors at:
- Credit Builders Alliance
- The Financial Counseling Association of America
- Local Initiatives Support Corporation
- National Foundation for Credit Counseling
If you’re worried a credit consultation will compromise your finances, rest assured that visiting a credit counselor has no effect on your credit score, nor is it reported to the credit bureau. If you enter a Debt Management Program, there is a notation of “DMP” that is added to your credit reports. But FICO officials and other credit scoring industry executives say they do not count that against you. So a DMP notation does not lower your credit score.
Your Score May Differ…
While credit score numbers may vary slightly from one another, it is important to know that whoever is evaluating your credit may use a different source of credit information in determining the eligibility of your credit application.
Why might your credit scores be different? There are a few reasons:
- Available data: For each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), their accumulated information of all your financial data is rarely identical. Inconsistencies in your data (e.g. a paid-off balance shown on credit report but not another, or an unreported car rental on your debit card) can cause differences in calculating your FICO scores.
- Formulas: FICO provides a number of algorithms that are used to determine your FICO score. While FICO updates how it determines your credit score, businesses and lenders to decide which model is best for their business to use. There are multiple FICO score, such as FICO 8 and the more recent FICO 9 score.
- Scale: While traditional FICO scores have been based on a 300 – 850 scale, newer models—like the VantageScore—at one point had different scoring ranges. VantageScores usd to be from 501 to 990 points. With the newer VantageScore 3.0, however, that credit score is also on a scale of 300 to 850 points.
While the differences may appear arbitrary and inconsequential, even a few points can make a difference when applying for credit, especially for mortgages.
Alternative Credit Scores
Finally, if you don’t have any of the above-mentioned cards or ways to access your credit scores, you may think you can’t get an idea of your creditworthiness for free. Think again.
There are other credit scores, known as “educational scores,” and several companies offer these to give you some context about how well you are managing your credit. These educational credit scores also offer other insights and useful information to improve your scores. Examples include:
In some instances, if you’ve seen companies that offer free “trial access” to your FICO score, be aware that there is usually a catch: you typically have to enroll in a credit monitoring service, sign up for a credit card or do some other action for a limited time. You have the option to cancel any products or services later, and possibly to avoid ongoing billing. But this process may turn off many consumers, especially as it requires you to be proactive and to remember to cancel something in the future, to stop online billing, or to request a refund.
FICO itself has its own free score estimator, which you can find here. After answering ten questions at the site, you can receive a ballpark FICO score.
In conclusion, you owe it to your financial future to know your FICO score, VantageScore and industry-specific or educational credit scores in order to gauge your creditworthiness and monitor your credit health. And why not? It is the same information that merchants, lenders, insurers, employers, and landlords have been able to consult for years. Having knowledge about your credit standing – and how to improve it – is indispensable for making the best financial decisions for you and your family.