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When you pull your credit reports online, you may be surprised to realize your credit score is not showing up.
Why isn't your credit score on your credit reports, and what can you do about it?
What's a credit score?
The first thing to understand is that credit reports and credit scores are totally different products.
Credit scores are an interpretation of that data in your credit reports that creditors use to gauge your creditworthiness. The higher your credit score, the better access you have to desirable financial products, like credit cards and low-rate loans. Credit reports do not typically include credit scores. However, Experian adds a credit score to reports that are mailed to consumers.
Because credit scores are calculated from the data in credit reports, a mistake there could be reflected in a lower-than-deserved score.
Credit-scoring formulas look at much the same information, with some small variations in how they weight the factors. They all have the same goal: to predict how likely you are to repay borrowed money.
What's a credit report?
Unlike a score, your credit report is just that, a report. It lists your entire credit profile for creditors to examine and then evaluate your creditworthiness — both independent of credit scores and in conjunction with them.
The information comes from creditors and public records. Reports are voluntary, and some creditors send data to only one or two bureaus, while others report to all three.
The reports cover a lot: open and closed accounts (also called tradelines), amounts owed, credit limits, late payments, collections actions, public records and more. (Here's a guide on how to read your credit reports.)
You're entitled to a free credit report from each of the three big credit bureaus weekly. Use Annualcreditreport.com to get them.
You can — and should — dispute errors on your credit reports and get them corrected. Mistakes on your reports could affect your access to credit, cost you a job opportunity or make it harder to rent a home.
How can you monitor your report and score for free?
Credit scores used to be available only if someone paid for them. That someone usually was a potential lender who wanted to estimate the likelihood of a potential customer repaying a loan or credit card charges. That still happens.
Consumers have not always had access to their scores. Now, however, scores are widely available to consumers for free from a variety of sources. When picking a source of a free score so you can monitor your credit, look for one that includes free credit report information as well, such as NerdWallet, which has scores and reports that update weekly. That gives you a convenient way to check your credit health any time and monitor your progress. It's smart to choose a particular score and monitor that one, using the same credit bureau and scoring model.