Psst! Wanna see your FICO score?
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. More than 50 now do so. 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 with free scores:
|Issuer||Free Credit Score Type||Who Can Get It|
|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.|
|Bank of America||FICO||Cardholders|
|Capital One||VantageScore 3.0||Anyone|
|Chase||FICO||Some cardholders (Slate)|
|US Bank||Not Available||Not Available|
|Wells Fargo||FICO||Customers with consumer credit accounts|
Knowledge equals power
Having your score readily available gives you more power over your financial life. And it seems like a little knowledge can go a long way. A 2015 survey of consumers’ knowledge of credit scores, conducted by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions, found that 60% of consumers knew that they could help their credit scores by paying on time, keeping a low balance and not opening a lot of new accounts. Of those respondents who had gotten their credit scores within the past year, 86% knew that 700 was a good credit score.
Even so, a 2016 NerdWallet study found that significant knowledge gaps remain and that many credit score myths persist. For example, more than half of Americans didn’t know that carrying a credit card balance from month to month doesn’t do anything to help a credit score, and nearly 8 in 10 were unaware that closing an older, paid-off credit card account can hurt your score.
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. Remember, 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 you’ll still need to check your three credit reports at least once per year, seeing your score every month is a good early warning system if things start going off the rails.
Your scores won’t be exactly the same
You don’t have a single FICO score. Each of the major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — collects data independently and scores you based on its own data. Usually, all three FICO scores will be pretty similar. 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.
This article was updated July 8, 2016. It was originally published in November 2014.