Lenders and other potential creditors use your credit score to decide whether they want to do business with you. So, knowing your score before applying for a loan, a credit card, an insurance policy, a job, or an apartment will give you an idea of whether you'll be approved.
Monitoring your credit score can also help you prevent, or deal with, bad credit—by quickly alerting you to possible problems and, at many of the services mentioned below, giving you tips on improving your score.
- Credit scores are used by lenders and others to evaluate the creditworthiness of an applicant.
- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion offer annual free credit reports, but not credit scores.
- You can get your credit score for free from credit monitoring websites and some credit card companies.
The Importance of Knowing Your Score
By logging on to AnnualCreditReport.com, you can check your credit reports for free once every 12 months from each of the major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. However, these reports will not give you a credit score. While you can pay one of the reporting companies for your credit score, you really don't have to anymore. There are a number of websites and credit card companies that will give you your credit score for free.
Here are four free services and five credit card companies that provide credit scores to consumers, along with what each of them offers and how they differ.
Signing Up for Free Credit Services
By signing up for these 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 Credit Karma or WalletHub’s free TransUnion credit reports with the free credit reports you can get through AnnualCreditReport.com, you’ll be in a better position to catch identity theft or other problems in their early stages.
Credit Karma—Scores and Reports
Credit Karma provides free credit scores and reports from TransUnion and Equifax that are updated weekly, and you don't have to provide a credit card to register. 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 devise a score that is more consistent from one bureau to the next and more accurate compared with traditional FICO scores. (In addition to those two scores, there are other, more specialized credit scores, which are used by insurance companies, for example.)
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 says it does not sell its customers’ information to advertisers, but it does recommend specific financial products based on your credit profile and makes money if you open an account with one of its advertising partners through the Credit Karma website.
Credit Sesame—Personalized Tips
Credit Sesame is another credit monitoring service but slightly different from Credit Karma. This one gives members access to their VantageScore from TransUnion. The site also provides personalized tips based on your credit profile and goals. And finally, it gathers all of your credit information and makes money-saving suggestions.
If you're overpaying in fees and interest, it will give you options you can use to lower those payments. The site also provides credit monitoring and alerts in case your profile or identity is compromised. Consumers can also get $50,000 in fraud resolution assistance for free through Credit Sesame. Like Credit Karma, this site doesn't ask for a credit card to join.
At the time of writing, Credit Sesame is one of the best credit monitoring services currently on the market.
You can get two free credit scores through Credit.com: an Experian score and your VantageScore 3.0, updated once a month. You’ll have to sign up for a free account, but you won't be required to put in a credit card number to register. 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 says it does not sell your data to third parties but makes money if you apply for offers through promotional links on its website.
By providing your name, address, date of birth, and last four digits of your Social Security number, and 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, such as 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 is 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. For example, it will tell you if your debt load is too high relative to the income you indicated when setting up your account, or if your credit utilization ratio is too high and hurting your score.
Drop-down menus provide additional details, such as your credit utilization ratio for each of your credit cards. An easy-to-read version of your credit report shows all of your current accounts and closed ones too, 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 on the site.
If you just want a general idea of where you stand, the free credit score on your monthly credit card statement, if your card issuer provides one, could be good enough.
Credit Card Companies That Provide Free Credit Scores
In addition to the services listed above, many credit card companies offer their customers, and sometimes others, a free look at their credit scores. They include:
Discover Card customers receive their free TransUnion FICO credit score on each monthly statement. Customers who are still establishing their credit history may not see a score until they've made several months of payments. One factor to note: Only the primary cardholder will receive a free credit score, while authorized users of the card will not.
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 a bank card or revolving accounts too high compared to credit limits” (in other words, a high credit utilization ratio) 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
Formerly known as Credit Tracker, Capital One's CreditWise service is available to anyone, whether or not you're a cardholder with the company. Through this service, you can get access to your VantageScore 3.0 every month and be alerted to any changes in it. One of the key features of this service is its simulator, which allows you to see which factors will affect your score and overall credit health—and by how much. For example, you can see the impact on your score of making a $1,500 purchase on a credit card or taking out a $10,000 loan.
First National Bank offers its credit card users a free FICO Bankcard Score 9, 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
If you have a Walmart credit card, you’ll receive a free FICO score each month if you sign up for electronic monthly statements. You’ll also be able to see two "reason codes" affecting your score.
Disclosure: The information in this article comes from the author going through the sign-up process and creating an account. The author has no holdings in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of writing.