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You already know the value of good first impressions. When you apply for a loan, new job, or even a rental application, your first financial impression will be your credit score. This three-digit number sometimes means the difference between an approved and declined application. Thankfully it’s easy to get your free credit score without damaging your credit score in the process.
It’s a good idea to check your free credit score for several reasons:
- Monitor your credit for potential fraud and data breach
- Rebuild your credit score
- View the same information your potential lender sees
Most free credit score website will send you a possible fraud alert if they notice unusual activity like a credit card application or loan application.
Regularly checking your free credit score is one of the best money decisions you can make.
What is a Free Credit Score?
Your free credit score is almost always going to the VantageScore product. While your VantageScore is very accurate, it’s usually not identical to your FICO Score which is the most common credit score. When a bank says they’re going to “check your credit score,” they are requesting your FICO score.
While you can request your FICO score online, you almost always must pay a $19.95 fee. This is why free credit score websites provide your VantageScore because it only varies slightly and is a free way to monitor your credit.
Your credit score is calculated by the information listed on your credit report from three credit bureau:
When you request a free credit score, or another company pulls your score, your financial information will be retrieved from one of these three bureaus to give you a number that’s between 300 and 850.
You want your credit score to be as high as possible and preferably above 600 to have the best approval chances. Once you know your credit score, you can determine your credit quality:
- Excellent: 750-850
- Good: 700-749
- Fair: 650-699
- Poor: 550-649
- Bad: Below 550
The higher your score, the lower the interest rate you will pay on loans and you can also qualify for larger loans and more lucrative credit cards because banks think you are less risky.
Free Credit Score vs. Free Credit Report
A credit score isn’t the same thing as a credit report.
In the past, your credit report was the only credit information you could access for view once a year. Your credit report is your personal record of loan and credit card payments, history credit applications, total outstanding debt, and experienced any major credit events like personal bankruptcy or defaulting on a loan in the last seven years.
Your credit score is based on the information in your credit report. FICO and VantageScore use their own unique formula to calculate your credit score.
Although you can see an updated credit score each month, free credit score websites will only continue to update your credit report once a year for free. As long as there isn’t a sharp drop in your monthly score update, don’t fret about only reviewing your credit report once a year.
Do Free Credit Scores Hurt Your Score?
No. Requesting a free credit score will never hurt your score. This is because free credit score sites pull your credit report information as a “soft inquiry.” If you get pre-approved for a loan or credit card, the bank will most likely do a soft inquiry too.
The only time your credit score will drop a few points is if you authorize a credit check, also called a “hard inquiry.” Even if you’re pre-approved for a loan, the lender will still perform a hard inquiry to look at your current score and any credit information that’s been reported in the last seven years.
In many cases, you can check your free credit score on a weekly or monthly basis, and it will never hurt your score. The only downside is that you can’t access your full credit report for free except once a year to see if any reporting errors are hurting your score.
Where to Check Your Free Credit Score
Several websites provide you with a free credit score. Your bank might provide your score for free, but there are several other trusted websites too.
Keep in mind that although you get to see your credit score for free, these companies might recommend credit cards and financial loans that you qualify for based on your current score. You’re never required to apply for any of their recommendations. If you do, they do receive a small commission which helps them continue providing your credit score for free.
Discover is the rare exception that provides any person their actual FICO score. Your score refreshes once every 30 days. Other banks offer free FICO scores but only for current customers.
You can get access to your VantageScore from the Equifax and TransUnion credit bureaus from Credit Karma. Because banks don’t always report your payment histories to all three credit bureaus, your score will vary slightly between the credit bureaus. It’s the case whether you request your FICO Score or VantageScore from all three bureaus.
So, your two Credit Karma scores might be 816 and 810 because of the reporting gap. If the difference is less than 15 points, you shouldn’t worry about a reporting error.
Besides getting two free scores, Credit Karma also updates your scores every week and includes a few other free perks:
- Identity monitoring
- Federal and State tax filing
- Find unclaimed money
Credit Sesame updates your TransUnion Vantage Score monthly. They also offer free identity restoration services and up to $50,000 in identity theft insurance.
If you care about protecting your credit profile, Credit Sesame might be your best option. You might be happy with their free services if you only want a free credit score, but you can also upgrade to premium membership to get daily credit score updates, 24/7 live expert access, and advanced credit fraud monitoring. These services might be essential to you if you’re actively trying to improve your score or you’ve been a previous victim of identity theft or a data breach.
As more of our sensitive information is stored online and data breaches become more common, being able to access your credit score for free is more valuable than ever. Although you might want to know your credit score because you plan on applying for a loan soon, checking it on a regular basis has many benefits. And, it’s always free!
Your free credit score is a convenient way to see the same information banks and lenders see. You might initially decide to check your score before you apply for a loan. But, it’s also a free way to protect yourself against credit fraud too.