Hallelujah! 5 Ways to Get Your FICO Score for Free
By Marilyn Lewis
Do you know your FICO score? If you don't, you are not alone. For many years, this critical data about you was largely behind a pay wall. But that is now changing, finally.
Your FICO score, the credit score most widely used in lending and banking, can be seen by lenders, bankers, landlords and other business users who want to know about your creditworthiness. But, until recently, you couldn't see that score without paying a fee, even though you are the one with the most at stake.
Consumers finally are getting free access to their FICO scores in a number of ways, thanks in large part to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB last year pushed heads of major credit card companies to allow consumers no-cost, regular access to FICO scores -- the score that lenders typically use, not the educational scores that banks, credit card companies and others often offer consumers instead.
Your credit score, which is meant to predict the risk of lending to you, is generated by running data from your creditors through a mathematical formula. In pressing credit card companies for change, the CFPB argued that consumers who can monitor their credit scores are able to improve their credit and avoid delinquency.
FICO, which stands for Fair Isaac Corp., is the company that invented credit scoring. FICO scores range between 300 and 850; the higher the score, the better your creditworthiness. "FICO says its scores are used in 90 percent of the credit decisions in the United States," according to The New York Times.
Free Access Should Make a Difference
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has long argued it is unfair to keep FICO scores from consumers or make consumers purchase them. After all, Stacy says, insurers, landlords, lenders, merchants and even employers use these scores when deciding whether to offer you credit, rent you a home or give you a job. A poor credit score can affect a military service member's chances of getting or keeping a job with a security clearance, according to Air Force Times.
You can get a free credit report annually, showing what merchants and lenders are reporting about you to the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Get your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. They allow you to watch for mistakes and correct them, so it's important to do. But a credit report does not contain your credit score. You need to obtain that separately. Learn more by reading How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps and see how to raise your credit score by following tips in this article.
"Consumers reported that they often do not feel empowered to take action to improve their credit histories and that they rarely apply credit information in their daily lives, such as using their credit reports and scores to negotiate better credit terms," the bureau says it learned from its research.
Watch Your Score's Movements
Seeing your FICO score should help as you can watch it change as you borrow, repay and apply for credit. You'll also be able to watch for changes that might signal fraud, or errors being reported by the credit bureaus. Some fluctuation in a score is to be expected, though. The New York Times reports: "Your FICO score from TransUnion may differ from one provided by Experian or Equifax. Also, (FICO spokesman Jeff Scott) noted, scores may change from month to month, depending on how you manage your credit.
Despite the decided improvements, a big remaining problem for consumers is the inconsistency among the scores offered, even the FICO scores, writes Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary: "Even the scores under the FICO brand can vary. FICO has updated its scoring model several times. But this does not mean that lenders use the latest versions. So even within the FICO scoring system, the score you get free could be different from the one a lender eventually pulls when you apply for credit. Still, FICO -- new or old -- is the go-to scoring system for most lenders."
It's not a perfect system. It's not a system at all, in fact, just a variety of possibilities that consumers can take advantage of. But, warts and all, free access to FICO scores is more available than ever before. Here are five sources for your score for free:
1. Credit Counselors
See and discuss your FICO score by making an appointment with a credit counselor at a nonprofit credit-counseling agency that purchases credit scores from Experian, a credit-reporting bureau, the CFPB says.
Contracts among agencies and credit bureaus typically prohibit credit counselors from sharing FICO scores with clients. But credit counselors using Experian scores are being allowed to show them to clients, says the CFPB. When calling for an appointment, ask if you will be able to see your FICO score. If the answer is no, keep shopping. Participating national organizations include:
- National Foundation for Credit Counseling: Call 800-388-2227 or use the agency locator to make an appointment or learn more.
- The Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies: Call 866-703-8787.
- Credit Builders Alliance: Call 202-730-9390.
- Local Initiatives Support Corp.: Call 212-455-9800.
- Your visit isn't reported to a credit bureau.
- Visiting a credit counselor doesn't affect your credit score.
- Nonprofit credit-counseling agencies offer help for free or at very low cost.
An increasingly common way to see your FICO score for free is by enrolling in a credit card offering access to FICO scores. Many cards charge an annual fee, so the FICO score isn't free, strictly speaking. It's a fringe benefit offered at no extra charge.
The Times reports and U.S. News say holders of these cards currently have or will give users access to their FICO scores this year:
- American Express. A pilot program launched early this year will give some American Express credit- and charge-card holders free FICO scores.
- Bank of America.
- Chase Slate cards.
- Citi-branded credit cards.
- First Bankcard.
- Merrick Bank.
Starting this summer, car buyers financing through these companies can see their scores, The Times says:
- Ally Financial.
- Hyundai Capital America (including Hyundai Motor Finance and Kia Motors Finance).
So far just a few credit unions are giving cardholders access to FICO scores, according to CNN. They are:
- Digital Credit Union.
- North Carolina State Employees' Credit Union.
- Pentagon Federal Credit Union.
Borrowers and cosigners of 2014-2015 Sallie Mae Smart Option undergraduate student loans can see their FICO scores, and all Smart Option customers will be able to do so later this year.
Alternative Credit Scores
Plenty of other sites offer free credit scores, just not FICO scores. If you can't get access through any of the cards or accounts above, consider an alternative score. You'll at least get a reading on your credit that you can monitor and compare over time.
Be aware that numerous websites advertise free FICO scores, but there's a potentially expensive catch: These are gateways to fee-based services. You must sign up with a credit card to get a free peek at your FICO score. Cancel the service quickly afterward to avoid charges. You can get free non-FICO credit scores from:
- Capital One offers a free service called Credit Tracker that gives cardholders non-FICO TransUnion Educational Score and credit report summaries, according to CreditCards.com.
- Wells Fargo offers Experian's Vantage Score to cardholders for 90 days through periodic promotions, Creditcards.com says.
Answering 10 questions at FICO delivers an estimated range for your FICO score.
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