What’s My Credit Score?

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“What’s my credit score? Where can I find it? How is it calculated?” Your credit score determines your eligibility for credit cards, home loans, car loans, student loans, apartment rentals and even certain job positions. It can mean the difference between a reasonable or exorbitant interest rate, and the difference between an affordable or excruciating insurance rate. There are few, if any, 3-digit numbers that hold so much power.

Where can I find my credit score?

Once a year, federal law entitles you to a free credit report from each of the 3 major credit bureaus. If denied credit, you’re eligible for an additional report. To view your free credit report, simply go to AnnualCreditReport.com.

Unfortunately, getting a free credit score is a little more difficult and a bit more costly. You can obtain your credit score from a number of websites, but they all demand a membership fee. However, the fee generally comes with a grace period in which you can avoid paying if you cancel your account. Here are a few credit score sites with their corresponding fees and grace periods:

Name Monthly Fee Grace Period
FreeCreditScore.com $17.99 7 Days
GoFreeCredit.com $16.95 30 Days
TransUnion $16.95 7 days
PrivacyGuard $14.99 14 days

PrivacyGuard actually gives estimated credit scores from all three bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and is a great way to check your score if you’ve already used up your one free annual credit report.

In addition to access to your credit score, these sites generally provide credit reports and services like credit monitoring.

The Discover it, as well as some credit cards from Barclays, also offer free FICO scores along with their cards. Discover it cardholders will see their FICO score on their monthly billing statements, and Barclaycard Ring, Arrival, Rewards, Juniper, Frontier and Carnival can view their scores online. Check it out:

Discover it®Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® - Earn 1x on All Purchases
Discover It Credit Card
Apply Now

on Discover's
secure website

starstarstarstarhalfstar
Barclays No-Fee Arrival Credit Card
Apply Now

on Barclays's
secure website

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What is a credit score? And how is it different from a credit report?

Your credit score—also known as a FICO score—is a 3-digit number that summarizes your creditworthiness. Ranging from 300 (worst) to 850 (best), your credit score tells lenders how likely you are to pay back loans. Your primary score is determined by Fair Isaac Corporation (hence “FICO”) and is considered the most accurate assessment. The 3 major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) also issue credit scores that vary slightly from bureau to bureau.

A credit report is an in-depth analysis of your creditworthiness issued by the credit bureaus, a detailed examination of the components that comprise your credit score. You’re entitled to a free report from each of the 3 bureaus once a year—twice if you’re rejected for credit. You should check your credit report regularly and report discrepancies immediately. Mistakes in credit reports happen more often than you might think and can have adverse effects on your credit score. You can view your free credit report (like really, truly, totally, 100% free) at AnnualCreditReport.com.

How is my credit score calculated?

Your credit score is contingent on a number of factors that can be summarized in 5 categories:

  • Payment History (35% of your FICO score): Making payments boosts your score. Missing payments destroys it. Recent history has a greater impact.
  • Amounts Owed (30% of your FICO score): Debt can hurt your score, though installment loans (like student loans) are actually beneficial if you keep up with payments. Your debt-to-credit-limit ratio is also important. Letting debt come too near your spending limit reflects poorly on your creditworthiness.
  • Length of Credit History (15% of your FICO score): The age of your accounts is taken into consideration. Old accounts earn more trust, while new accounts are regarded with suspicion.
  • New Credit (10% of your FICO score): This category looks at recent credit acquisitions and inquiries into your credit score. Too many new credit lines or too many inquiries in a short period of time look bad.
  • Types of credit used (10% of your FICO score): Different kinds of credit impact your score in different ways. The best way to score points here is to diversify your credit types.

How do I raise my credit score?

Establishing credit is easier than you might think. A good credit score starts with smart spending. Be responsible, keep an eye on your accounts and know a few basic tricks:

  1. Make payments on time. Always. Just do it.
  2. Keep your debts low. Stay well under your credit limit and only charge what you can afford.
  3. Apply for a credit card. Obtain the best card for your FICO score. If you’re starting from zilch, you may have to settle for secured credit. Check out the Capital One Secured MasterCard - it’s known for its low fees and minimum deposits.
  4. Don’t open a bunch of accounts all at once. Rapid increase of your credit limit and numerous inquiries into your credit looks suspicious.
  5. Proofread your credit report and alert the bureaus of any inaccuracies. They sometimes make mistakes that can be detrimental to your score.
  6. Keep credit cards open as long as possible. This raises your average account age, which makes you look good. No-fee credit cards are free to maintain, so it costs nothing to keep your account.
  7. Don’t take out cash advances.
  8. Don’t use prepaid debit cards. They will NEVER help you build credit. We promise.

Be logical, be frugal, be smart. Good spending will be rewarded. Bad spending will be penalized. It’s that simple.

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet's official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
  • Melissa Epps

    I am looking for a second chance checking account near San Diego, Which banks or credit unions offer that service. Any suggestions.

    melissaepps87@yahoo.com

    • sensrbtch

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      • Brett Tyler Ware

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  • Michael

    Is there a special number of credit cards to have? I currently have 3 (all long term) and am looking to diversify (two chase and AMEX), but people always say 3 credit cards is the magic number. IS this true?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hi Michael,

      There’s no magic number of credit cards to have – generally, more is better, but applying for too many all at once looks suspicious to lenders. Having multiple lines of credit open is helpful (it increases your overall credit limit and number of accounts open) but to diversify, you can have department store credit cards, regular credit cards, and other loans.

      For more information, check out our article on how to build your credit score.

      Cheers,
      The Nerds

    • sensrbtch

      discover,mastercard,visa. what cards r the best in u r area? american express is 00+ in my area? alls else is o.k./! so look on the net., an git r dun, for u r area.3 is alls u ned! i hav discover,visa,mastercard. the way the card works is” pay the bill on time, and u r credit value buildsa ovr time”

      • Brett Tyler Ware

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