Years ago, your FICO score was a secret that lenders didn’t want you to know. Then the Fair Credit Reporting Act enabled you to request your credit score from the credit bureaus, but you had to pay for it. Now we’re in the free score era.
In 2013, Fair Isaac Corp., the company that created the FICO score, launched its FICO Score Open Access program, which allowed lenders to give their customers free FICO scores.
The next year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau called on major credit card issuers to offer free credit scores to their customers, and many of them now do. Here’s where the largest credit card issuers stand:
Which credit card issuers offer free scores?
Free Credit Score Type
Who Can Get It
Bank of America
Customers with consumer credit accounts
Note: FICO scores provided by different credit card issuers may vary. That's because issuers get FICO scores from different consumer credit bureaus. Each bureau collects consumer account data independently, and it calculates scores based only on the data it has collected.
Why should you check your score?
Knowing your FICO score has a number of benefits. First, most lenders in the United States use FICO scores when deciding whether to extend credit. With access to a score based on the same models that bankers and card issuers use, you’ll have a better sense of where you stand in their eyes.
Also, if you’re working to improve your credit, checking your FICO score every month is a great way to gauge your progress. It’s gratifying to see that your hard work is paying off. On the flip side, it’ll be easier to spot credit mistakes when you make them and adjust your habits accordingly.
Finally, keeping an eye on your FICO score is a good way to spot trouble. Your FICO score is determined by the information on your credit report. If you fall victim to identity theft or a credit reporting error, this will likely show up in your FICO score. Although it will still be beneficial to check your three credit reports at least once per year — which you can also do for free at AnnualCreditReport.com — seeing your FICO score every month is a good early warning system if things start going off the rails.
NerdWallet, too, offers a free credit report.
Why aren't your scores exactly the same?
Here’s where it gets tricky: You don't just have a single FICO score. Each of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — collects data independently and scores you based on its own data. Credit card issuers don't all use the same score from the same bureau.
Usually, all three FICO scores will be pretty similar. But the upshot is that if you apply for a big loan, like a mortgage, don’t be surprised if the scores your lender is looking at aren’t the same as what you’re seeing at your credit card issuer’s site.
» MORE: Free credit services explained
The bottom line: Knowledge equals power
Having your score readily available gives you more power over your financial life. Your credit report is made up of all kinds of sensitive information that can have a powerful impact on your finances, and greatly impact your credit score. It’s important to check that the data is correct and up to date, and most major issuers now make this free and easy to do.
» MORE: How to build credit