Just like you’d get an annual health check-up, a regular credit check can help make sure you’ve got your finances under control. At the very least, you should check your credit score once a year.
This helps you make sure all of your loan and credit card information is correct and can also help identify any potential identity theft concerns.
There are other times you may want to check your credit score more frequently. Anytime before you apply for a large loan, it’s a good idea to gauge what kind of interest rate to expect. Alternatively, if you’re trying to repair your credit, finding out your credit scores lets you know the kind of progress you’re making.
But while you can get your free credit report once each year, getting your credit scores can be a little trickier. Here are four ways you can find your credit scores.
Credit Card and Loan Statements
A great way to potentially access your credit scores for free (and often on a regular basis) is through a credit card or loan statement with an existing creditor.
Check to see if any of your accounts offer this service. You can look either on your monthly statement or your online account.
There are plenty of credit cards offering a free credit score to customers. If you’re in the market for a new credit card, consider one of these to take advantage of this ongoing perk.
Just be aware that while many creditors offer your monthly FICO score (the one most frequently used by lenders), others may use different types of credit scores. They may also only show you your credit score from one of the three major credit bureaus. So while the number you see may differ slightly from the trio of numbers your lender will likely look at, it’s a great jumping-off point.
Free Credit Score Services
There are lots of websites offering free credit scores. They make money from affiliate links and advertising. That’s how they are able to offer them for free. You may, however, have to give certain personally-identifying information and some websites require a credit card.
Others, like Credit Karma, offer a 100% free credit score. You’ll only have to enter the last four digits of your social security number when setting up your account, but never any credit card information.
Instead of getting your FICO score from these websites, however, you’ll likely get what’s called an educational credit score. Many often use VantageScore, which is a credit scoring model developed by the credit bureaus.
It’s not the same as a FICO score, but it’s still based on information found directly on your credit report. So again, it may not match up exactly with what your lender pulls. However, it gives you expectations to draw from.
Purchase a Credit Score
If you’re set on getting your actual FICO score and can’t find it through one of the previous methods, you do have the option of purchasing it directly from MyFICO. There are a couple of different one-time purchasing options depending on your needs.
For about $20, you can choose a single credit bureau to receive both your credit score and credit report. For just under $60, you can get the same information from all three credit bureaus at once.
The nice thing about going through FICO is that you get some analysis along with your credit scores and credit reports. First, FICO will identify the top factors affecting your credit score for each credit bureau. You can also use a decision simulator to figure out how potential financial moves might affect your credit score.
And if you’re applying for a specific type of loan, FICO gives you access to your credit score across models, including those for mortgage, auto, and credit card lending. This information can help you know what a specific type of lender sees when you apply for credit. That’s because these credit scoring models weigh certain factors differently than the traditional FICO score.
Credit Monitoring Services
This choice doesn’t make sense for everyone, but it could be a good option for certain situations. Many credit monitoring services offer regular credit score updates as part of their services. Of course, you’ll have to pay a fee (usually on a monthly basis), which can vary depending on the level of service you choose from your provider.
Who should consider a credit monitoring service?
There are typically two types of individuals this makes sense for. The first is if you have bad credit and are working on repairing it. Signing up usually lets you track your credit score regularly. This can be particularly helpful if you’re waiting to hit a specific benchmark credit score before making a big financial decision, like a mortgage or auto loan.
The other type of person that can benefit from it is a victim of identity theft or if your personal information has been compromised. If someone has stolen your information or managed to open fraudulent accounts on your behalf, a drop in your credit score can be one of the first indicators.
Non-profit Credit Counselors
If you’re looking for help with your credit, a non-profit counselor may give you free access to your credit score. You may have to pay them a nominal fee for their service. However, they will give your credit score and also help evaluate your financial situation. They can give you unbiased advice on debt relief options and even help you figure out a budget to regain your financial footing.
HUD-approved housing counselors can also help you get this information. They’re similar to a credit counselor, except they specialize in foreclosure prevention. If you’re worried about keeping up with your monthly mortgage payments, it may be wise to reach out to a housing counselor for help.
No matter what method you choose to get your credit score, make sure it’s part of your regular financial routine. Reviewing your credit history is helpful, but your credit score is a huge part of the bottom line for any type of credit application. It can also be incredibly motivating to improve your financial habits when you’re rewarded with a boost in your credit score.