While you can check your credit reports from each of the major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – for free once every 12 months at www.AnnualCreditReport.com, the free reports don’t contain your credit score. Lenders and creditors, however, will use your credit score when deciding whether to work with you. While you don’t generally need to know your credit score, you might want to see what it is six to 18 months in advance of applying for a major loan, an apartment or a job to get an idea of whether you’ll be approved, if you’ll qualify for the lowest rates and if you need to take steps to improve your score.

Many companies are happy to take your money to show you your credit score, but there’s no need to pay a dime to learn this number. In this article, we’ll tell you about the websites and credit card companies that will give you your credit score for free. Here are five free services and five credit card companies that provide credit scores to consumers, what each offers and how they differ. (Read about the pros and cons of relying on free credit scores in FICO Or FAKO? The Limitations of Free Credit Scores.)

Free Credit Score Services

Credit Karma

Credit Karma provides free credit scores and reports from TransUnion and Equifax that are updated weekly (no credit card required). The free TransUnion and Equifax credit scores you get through Credit Karma are based on the VantageScore 3.0 model. The VantageScore is a newer scoring model created by a collaboration among the three major credit bureaus to create a score that is more consistent from one bureau to the next and more accurate compared with traditional FICO scores. (Learn more in Are Credit Karma Scores Real and Accurate?)

You also get free credit monitoring for your TransUnion report, a credit factors analysis that summarizes key details from your credit report, and a free credit score simulator that shows you how various actions, like adding a new credit card or increasing your credit line, are likely to affect your credit score. Credit Karma also offers a free auto insurance score.

Credit Karma does not sell its customers’ information to advertisers, but it does recommend specific financial products based on your credit profile and it makes money if you open an account with one of its advertising partners through the Credit Karma website.

Credit Sesame

Credit Sesame offers a free credit score that’s updated monthly (no credit card required) and a free credit report profile based on your debt payments, debt balances, debt-to-income ratio and assets that’s updated every other month. The service doesn’t actually offer a free credit report, but you may still find it helpful. Credit Sesame offers free credit monitoring, too, which notifies you when something changes in your credit report.

Credit Sesame also gives customers recommendations for loans that will help them save money based on an analysis of your financial profile. Credit Sesame earns money if you close on a loan with one of its recommended providers but does not sell members’ information to advertisers.

Quizzle

Quizzle offers consumers a free VantageScore credit score, which Quizzle says “is used by thousands of lenders, including the nation's largest banks, in their credit card, auto lending and mortgage businesses.” It also offers a free Equifax credit report. You can get your free score and report every three months. Like the other sites in this article, Quizzle doesn’t require users to provide a credit card.

When you view your credit score through your Quizzle account, you’ll see how much factors like your payment history and age and type of credit affect your credit score. Quizzle also provides credit card recommendations and home loan recommendations and receives compensation from those companies. The premium service, Quizzle Pro, provides a monthly credit report and score, 24/7 credit monitoring and other benefits for $8 per month; Quizzle Pro+ contains everything in Quizzle Pro along with several identity theft services for $15 per month.

Credit.com

You can get two free credit scores through Credit.com: an Experian score and your VantageScore 3.0. You’ll have to sign up for a free account (no credit card required), and your score is updated once a month. The site also offers a free credit report card that shows how the information in your credit report affects your score and provides tips for improving your score. Credit.com does not sell your data to third parties; it makes money when users apply for offers through promotional links on its website.

WalletHub

Note: The information below comes from going through the sign-up process myself and creating an account.

By providing your name, address, date of birth and last four digits of your Social Security number then answering a few questions to verify your identity, you’ll gain access to WalletHub’s free credit report and score service. At the end of registration, the site also asks a few personal questions like your annual income, monthly expenses, savings, most important financial need and credit card debt. The score you’ll get is your TransUnion VantageScore and the credit report data are also from TransUnion.

The dashboard shows all of your credit accounts and your balances, while the credit alert section gives you a report card-style letter grade on the factors that influence your credit score. It will tell you, for example, if your debt load is too high relative to the income you supplied when setting up your account or your credit utilization is too high and hurting your score. Drop-down menus provide additional details like your credit utilization ratio for each of your cards. An easy-to-read version of your credit report shows all your current and closed accounts and any negative items like accounts that have gone to collections. A menu bar across the top of the page provides information about financial products and services such as checking accounts and car loans. WalletHub earns money from some of these companies, which advertise and pay for premium placements (see “Does WalletHub sell anything?”).

Sign Up for More Than One

By signing up for each of these five free services, you’ll get a broad view of what your credit score looks like with each of the major credit bureaus. And if you combine CreditKarma’s or WalletHub’s free TransUnion credit reports and Quizzle’s quarterly free Equifax credit reports with the free credit reports you can get through www.AnnualCreditReport.com, you’ll be in a better position to catch any identity theft in its early stages.

Credit Cards with Free Credit Scores

Next are several options for getting a free credit score if you have certain credit cards.

Discover Card

Discover Card holders receive their FICO TransUnion credit score for free on each monthly statement. Customers who have just started developing a credit history may not see a score on their statements until they have several months of payment history that TransUnion can use to develop their score. Also, only the primary cardholder will receive a free credit score; customers who are merely authorized users on someone else’s account will not.

Barclaycard

Barclaycard customers get a free FICO score on their monthly statements. In addition, they can see up to two factors that affect their credit score. These might be things like “balances on bankcard or revolving accounts too high compared to credit limits” or “The total of all balances on your open accounts is too high.” This information can help you improve your credit score by changing the way you use credit. Barclaycard also provides a chart showing how your credit score has changed over time once you have three months of credit score history.

Capital One Card

Capital One cardholders get free access to a monitoring tool called Credit Tracker, which shows you your credit score based on the TransUnion New Account Model. This score is considered an informational score for consumer use and may differ from the score a lender would pull. Credit Tracker also shows how different actions could affect your score and how you rate on the key factors that affect your score such as on-time payments and available credit. The tool will also send you optional alerts whenever your TransUnion credit report changes, which could help you detect identity theft if it tells you a new account has been opened in your name and you know you didn’t open that account. Your score is updated every 30 days as long as you log into your Capital One account. The free credit score and related tools are not available to Spark or partner card holders.

First Bankcard

First National Bank offers its credit card holders a free FICO Bankcard Score 8, which is a score tailored to credit card lending. It is not, in other words, the score a mortgage lender would use when deciding whether you can borrow money to buy a house, but it will still give you some idea of where you stand. Your score is updated once a month.

Walmart Credit Card

As a Walmart credit card holder, you’ll receive your FICO score for free each month if you enroll in electronic monthly statements. You’ll also be able to see two reason codes affecting your score.

The Bottom Line

In the past, the only way to get a “free” credit score was to sign up for a trial of a monthly subscription service that required you to provide your credit card number and charged you automatically if you forgot to cancel during the trial period. Now, there are numerous truly free options available, and most come with additional tools to help you manage your credit and your personal finances. More Banks Offer Free FICO Scores demonstrates another route for getting them.

If you’re applying for a loan soon and want to get the broadest picture of what your credit might look like to lenders, you’ll want to access several free services to see how your scores vary by bureau and by scoring method. If you just want a general idea of where you stand, the free score on your monthly credit card statement should be good enough.

Disclosure: The author has no holdings in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of writing.