Should you pay to see your own credit score? Ideally, no, but the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows companies to charge you to see your score, so in some cases, you might not have a choice.

Note that a credit score is not the same thing as a credit report. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year under the law.

Credit Score Vs. Credit Report

A credit score is a number that evaluates a consumer's creditworthiness based on the individual's credit history. Your credit score is a numerical representation of your credit report. The better your credit report is, the higher your credit score will be.

Key Takeaways

  • Your credit score is a numeric representation of your credit report.
  • You can get a free credit report once a year from all three major credit bureaus.
  • A number of credit card companies let you see your credit score anytime.

The credit report is a detailed report of an individual's credit history prepared by one of the three major credit bureaus. Once per year, you can request a free copy of each of your credit reports from the major reporting agencies.

Just go to annualcreditreport.com and follow the simple instructions. It’s free and easy.

One Score Matters

Other companies market their own versions of a credit score, but only one score matters: your FICO score. (The data analytics company that developed the FICO score, then called Fair, Isaac & Co., is now also called FICO.)

Today, about 90% of all lending decisions factor a FICO score into the mix. If you’re going to pay for your score, don’t pay one of the other providers: Pay FICO. But there are some ways to get your score for free.

Free Sources of Credit Scores

A growing list of card companies provide your FICO score free of charge. Some of them include Barclaycard US, Discover, First National, Citi, Chase (Slate only), and Bank of America.

Keep in mind that FICO scores are based on a single credit report, not all of the major three reports combined. Discover, for example, provides the TransUnion score, while First National uses the Experian score. The differences between the two scores should be minor.

When You Get a Home or Auto Loan

If you have applied for a major purchase, the lender that pulled your report will probably give you a copy of your score if you ask.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you are entitled to receive your score if your application for credit is turned down or you receive less than favorable terms as a result of your score.

You Don’t Really Have to Know It

Your FICO score is a great way to quickly gauge the health of your credit, but it’s nothing more than a reflection of your credit reports, which you get for free.

If you get all three reports, examine them carefully, clean up any misinformation and monitor them annually, your credit score isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know.

You might check your FICO score six months before a major purchase.

There are some exceptions: If you have damaged credit, your score is an easy way to measure your progress as you work to repair your credit.

It’s also a good idea to look at your score six or more months before a major purchase to make sure you're set up to get the best possible rates on a car loan or a mortgage.

If you do have to pay for it, a one-time request for your score will cost you about $20. You can also pay monthly for continuous monitoring, but in most cases, monitoring your credit report will be enough unless you have damaged credit or plan to make a major purchase in the near future.

What's a Good Credit Score?

FICO credit scores range from a rock bottom 300 to a top 850. Roughly, 300 to 629 is poor. From 630 to 689 is fair. From 690 to 719 is good, and 720 and above is excellent.