Credit Score vs. Credit Report
Don’t confuse the two. A credit score is a statistical number that evaluates a consumer's creditworthiness and is based on credit history. Your credit score is a numerical representation of your credit report. The higher your credit score, the better your credit report is. A credit report is a detailed report of an individual's credit history prepared by a credit bureau. Once per year, you can request a copy of each of your credit reports from the major reporting agencies. Simply go to annualcreditreport.com and follow the simple instructions. It’s free and easy.
One Score Matters
Other companies market their own version of a credit score, but only one score matters: your FICO score. According to FICO, 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 those include Barclaycard US, Discover, First National, Citi, Chase (if you have a Slate card) and Bank of America.
Keep in mind that FICO scores are based on a single credit report – not each of the major three combined. Discover, for example, provides the TransUnion score, while First National uses the Experian score. However, the difference between the two scores should be small.
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 may also receive your score if your application 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 pull all three of your 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.
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, say, a car loan or mortgage.
The Bottom Line
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.