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Building Credit, Credit Cards

A Guide to Getting Your Free Credit Score

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

As a consumer of financial products it is important to monitor your credit score on a regular basis. This will ensure that you know where you stand in the credit landscape when it comes time to apply for a new credit card, loan, mortgage, or other product. Monitoring your credit score regularly can also help notify you of any unexpected changes to your credit history such as fraud.

There are numerous free credit scores available for you to access; however, not all scores are considered equal. Credit lenders will often pull specific scores, depending on the product you are applying for. Therefore, we have created a simple chart for you to see where you can get specific credit scores from the top two companies — FICO® and VantageScore. The best part is, it’s all for free!

Read on for details on important aspects that make up your credit score and which score suits your individual needs.

 

Finding the Right Credit Score

Where to Access Your Credit Score for Free

The below chart lists some of the various versions of credit scores and where you can access them for free from a variety of banks, credit card companies, and personal finance websites.

 

VantageScore 3.0

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Disclosure: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney

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FICO 5

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FICO 8

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FICO 9

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FICO Bankcard
Score 8

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FICO NextGen
Score

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Unknown FICO
Model

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FICO® Score vs. VantageScore

You may be wondering which score is better — FICO® score or VantageScore? We’re going to break down what the different versions of the two scores are best for in the next section, but for now here are several differences between the two major types of credit scores.

Find the Best Credit Score for Your Needs:

The credit score that you are looking for varies, depending on what type of credit you are looking to apply for. Each credit score version has different benefits, and lenders pull certain scores in accordance with your application.

 

Credit Score Monitoring


Credit Cards

Mortgage Loans & Mortgage ReFis

Auto Loans

Personal Loans, Student Loans, Retail Credit

The Best Option

All Vantage- Scores & FICO® scores

FICO® Bankcard Scores & FICO® Score 8 primarily; FICO® Score 3

FICO® Scores 2, 4, 5

FICO® Auto Scores 2, 4, 5, 8, 9

FICO® Score 8

Where to Find Them

Plenty of free options. See our chart above.

FICO® Score 8 only:-Credit Scorecard by Discover -freecreditscore.com

myFICO for $59.85

myFICO for $59.85

Credit Scorecard by Discover -freecreditscore.com

Additional Info

If you’re simply looking to monitor your credit score and stay on top of your credit, either VantageScore or FICO® score will suffice.

When applying for a new credit card, these scores are most likely to be pulled by credit card issuers. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus.

These scores are used in the majority of mortgage-related credit evaluations, with lenders pulling your score from all three bureaus. However, these scores are not free and can only be purchased at myFICO.

Auto scores are industry-specific and used in the majority of auto-financing credit evaluations. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus. Unfortunately, these scores are not free and need to be purchased at myFICO.

For other financial products such as personal loans, student loans, and retail credit, FICO® Score 8 is best. This is the credit score most widely used by lenders, and they may pull your score from one or all three bureaus when making a decision.

Credit Score Monitoring

The best options: All VantageScores and FICO® scores

If you’re simply looking to monitor your credit score and stay on top of your credit, either VantageScore or FICO® score will suffice.

New Credit Card

The best options: FICO® Bankcard Scores or FICO® Score 8 primarily; FICO® Score 3

Where to get them: Get your FICO® Score 8 from Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com

When applying for a new credit card, these scores are most likely to be pulled by credit card issuers. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus.

Mortgage Loans and Mortgage ReFis

The best options: FICO® Scores 2, 4, 5

Where to get them: myFICO for $59.85

These scores are used in the majority of mortgage-related credit evaluations, with lenders pulling your score from all three bureaus. However, these scores are not free and can only be purchased at myFICO.

Auto Loans

The best options: FICO® Auto Scores 2, 4, 5, 8, 9

Where to get them:myFICO for $59.85

Auto scores are industry-specific and used in the majority of auto-financing credit evaluations. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus. Unfortunately, these scores are not free and need to be purchased at myFICO.

Personal Loans, Student Loans, and Retail Credit

The best option: FICO® Score 8

Where to get it: Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com

For other financial products such as personal loans, student loans, and retail credit, FICO® Score 8 is best. This is the credit score most widely used by lenders, and they may pull your score from one or all three bureaus when making a decision.

Other Scores and Their Value

FICO® Score 9 is the newest model and not widely used yet. It is also not available for free at this time. The benefits of this score are that it doesn’t penalize you for paid collections and reduces the ding you get from unpaid medical collections. See our review for more information.

The FICO® NextGen score is used to assess credit risk, but only a small number of lenders use it due to its 150-950 scoring range and older model.

Credit Score Basics

What are the three credit bureaus?

There are three credit bureaus that report your credit score to financial institutions and personal finance websites. The bureaus are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. They collect credit information from a plethora of lenders and data providers and then consolidate it into a credit file, with your credit score being the key piece of information. You can’t get your credit score directly from the bureaus, but earlier in this article we discussed numerous resources where you can access your credit score — for free.

What is a FICO® score?

A FICO® score is a number that predicts how likely you are to pay back a loan or other credit products in a timely manner. FICO® scores range from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the more likely you are to be approved for credit cards, loans, mortgages, and other financial products. FICO® scores are the most widely used credit scores — influencing over 90% of U.S. lending decisions.

How is a FICO® score calculated?

FICO® scores are calculated from data in your credit reports and made up of the following five key factors:

Source: ficoscore.com
  1. Payment history (35%):
    Your payment history is simply a record of your on-time or missed payments. It’s the largest component of your FICO score — and therefore the most important aspect to focus on if you want to improve it.
  2. Amounts owed — aka utilization (30%):
    Utilization is the amount of your credit limit you use. It is ideal to have a utilization below 20%. If you have two credit cards, one with a $10,000 limit and the other $5,000, then your total credit limit is $15,000. If you have a combined $3,000 debt across both cards, then your utilization would be 20%.
  3. Length of credit history (15%):
    The total length of time that you’ve had credit across all products you have. For example, expect your credit score to be slightly lower if you have had credit for six months versus six years.
  4. New credit (10%):
    Frequency of credit inquiries and new account openings. When you open a new account, your credit score will take a slight dip for about six months, then it will rise — as long as you’re responsible in the other four factors mentioned.
  5. Credit mix (10%):
    This is the different types of credit you have. This includes credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, and other financial products. The more variety of credit you’re responsible with, the better your score will be.

What is a VantageScore?

A VantageScore is also a number that measures your credit risk. These scores typically range from 300 to 850 (501-990 for earlier models) and are used by 20 of the 25 largest financial institutions. VantageScores are in line with FICO® — the higher your score, the better. VantageScores are more widely available for free from online resources than FICO® scores; however, a majority of lenders pull your FICO® score when making decisions.

How is a VantageScore calculated?

VantageScores are calculated from data in your credit reports and influenced by the following six key factors:

Source: your.vantagescore.com

FAQ

Credit scores are typically updated every 30 days. Depending on your activity, your score may remain the same or fluctuate.

No, checking your score will not do any damage to your score.

Your credit scores differ based on the information that each bureau pulls. Most information is the same, but one bureau may use unique information that another bureau doesn’t have, creating a difference in scores. Also, if you compare your FICO® scores and VantageScores, they will differ because they use different criteria when pulling your score.

A FAKO score is a non-FICO score that is known as an “equivalency score” or “educational score.” FAKO scores give you a general picture of where you stand, but aren’t used by lenders when making a credit decision and therefore aren’t accurate in predicting if you’ll be approved.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at [email protected]

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Build Credit with $10 a Month on a Secured Card

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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In 2008, I moved to the U.S. with my wife, Margarita, after living in Moscow. Although Margarita had an impressive career in Russia, she was not a U.S. citizen and had no credit history or credit score. If you don’t have a credit score in the U.S. this basically means you don’t exist, at least in the eyes of lenders. In fact, one in 10 Americans is considered “credit invisible,” meaning they don’t have enough credit history to produce a credit score.

This was a problem we knew we had to fix fast, especially if Margarita wanted be able to take out credit cards or an auto loan, or even apply for an apartment lease in the future.

By following a few basic steps, within 12 months, she had a very good credit score. Within 18 months, she had an excellent credit score and qualified for a rewards credit card with a $25,000 credit limit.

How to open a secured credit card

Opening a secured credit card is relatively easy. You have to provide the bank with a deposit, which is typically $200 or more. The bank will keep the deposit as collateral and will provide you with a credit limit equal to your deposit — some cards may even give you a higher limit without requiring a larger deposit. In Margarita’s example, she gave the bank a $500 deposit and received a $500 credit limit.

Once open, the credit card works like any other. Your credit limit, balance and payment information are reported to the three major credit bureaus. The only difference: If you fail to pay your credit card on time, the bank can take your deposit and apply it toward the debt.

So the bank has a guarantee that they won’t lose money. And you have the opportunity to prove that you will use your credit wisely.

How to use a secured credit card

Given that I was a bank credit risk manager at the time, I knew a bit about credit scoring. So I made sure Margarita followed this strategy:

  • She used the card every month, but for a very small amount. Her typical monthly bill would be around $10.
  • She made sure that she paid the balance in full and on time every month by signing up for automatic payments.
  • She subscribed to a credit scoring service to watch her score improve over time.

It took about six months for Margarita’s score to cross the 600 threshold. About 18 months after starting, she had a score well above 700. At that point, she applied for a rewards credit card. It had a great sign-on bonus and a  $25,000 credit limit.

So it only took a year and a half for someone to go from being a credit nobody to one of the most sought-after customers in the country. What was the trick? It is actually very simple.

3 key rules to follow

Use your card every month

In order to have a FICO® Score, you must have activity on your credit report over the past six months. If there is no activity on your report during this time, you cannot get a score.

Activity does not mean you need to go into debt. You can make a single purchase every month (even for just $1) and that is considered activity.

Keep your utilization low

One of the most important components of your credit score is utilization, making up 30% of your FICO® Score. Your utilization is calculated by dividing your statement balance by your total available credit. People with the best credit scores have utilization levels of 10% or less, but at most, you want to stay below 30%. That means if you have a credit limit of $1,000, you should not spend more than $300 a month.

The best strategy with a secured credit card is to select one small, recurring transaction and automate it. For example, use your secured credit card for your monthly Netflix or Spotify® bill.

Pay your bill in full and on time every month

The most important part of your credit score is a history of on-time payments. This factor alone comprises 35% of your FICO® Score. Even a single missed payment can have a very negative impact on your score. The best way to ensure that you don’t miss a payment is to set up autopay.

Additionally, make sure you pay your balance in full, so you will not have to pay interest. There is nothing more ridiculous than paying interest on a secured credit card. Remember: Your credit limit is equal to your deposit. You are literally borrowing your own money. But if you pay interest (at a high rate), you will be paying a bank to borrow from yourself.

This is just a long way of saying that Margarita’s approach worked. If you want to use a secured credit card to build your credit score, just use it every month for a $10 charge. And pay that balance in full and on time. As a result, your score should improve.

How to select the best secured credit card

When selecting a secured credit card, we recommend you focus on the annual fee — you shouldn’t have to pay one. You can find our roundup of the best secured cards here.

Our top choice is the Discover it® Secured.

Discover it® Secured

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Secured

Regular APR
25.24% Variable
Annual fee
$0
Credit required
bad-credit
Poor/New

How the Discover it® Secured works

There is a typical $200 security deposit, but you can receive it back if: 1. You pay your balance in full and close your credit card account, 2. You qualify to be refunded your deposit during one of Discover’s monthly automatic account reviews (starting at eight months from account opening) and 3. You upgrade to an unsecured card.

Cashback rewards: In this cashback program, you earn 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The cashback match. The Discover it® Secured has a new cardmember bonus where Discover automatically matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. The cashback rate is great in general, as few secured cards have rewards, and it’s primarily beneficial for people who typically spend on gas and dining. The cashback match you receive is unique because there is no minimum spending requirement for you to earn the additional cash back. Most cards set a three-month time period and minimum spend for you to earn a new cardmember bonus, but not Discover.

An alternative

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One's website

Read Full Review

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Regular Purchase APR
26.99% (Variable)
Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$49, $99, or $200
Credit required
bad-credit
Limited/Bad

Upgrading from a secured card to a traditional, unsecured card

Typically, for secured cards from the major issuers such as Discover, Capital One® and Citi®, the upgrade from a secured card to unsecured card involves:

  1. An automatic review process. This checks your eligibility for an unsecured card. The review process varies by issuer, with some cards starting it eight months from account opening and others waiting until 18 months.
  2. Receive your security deposit back. If you qualify for an upgrade and your balance is paid in full, you will receive your security deposit back.
  3. Receive an unsecured card. In addition to receiving your security deposit back, you will be transitioned to a traditional, unsecured card.

If your card doesn’t have an automatic upgrade process, we recommend the following:

  1. Check your credit score often to track your progress toward building credit.
  2. Search for a new card that fits your credit score. There are plenty of options for fair, good or excellent credit — and the better your score, the more options available.
  3. Check for pre-qualification. Before you apply for a new card, check to see if there’s a pre-qualification feature. This allows you to check your approval odds and shop around for the best offer without hurting your credit score. But keep in mind that pre-qualification isn’t a guarantee of approval.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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Building Credit

Build Your Credit Score: 6 Secured Cards With No Annual Fees – May 2019

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Secured cards are a great way to build or improve credit. When you open a secured card, you submit a security deposit that typically becomes your credit limit. This deposit acts as collateral if you default on your account, but you can get it back if you close your account after paying off your balance. As long as you use a secured card responsibly — for example, make on-time payments and use little of your available credit — you may see improvements in your credit score. Unfortunately, in addition to the upfront deposit, this credit-building tool can have extra costs, like an annual fee.

You can avoid that expense with one of these six no annual fee secured cards, which have a variety of uses:

Cards to consider

Rewards

Discover it® Secured

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Discover it® Secured

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular APR
25.24% Variable

The Discover it® Secured is a standout secured card that provides cardholders the opportunity to earn cash back while building credit. A cashback program is hard to find with secured cards, and the Discover it® Secured offers 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases. In addition, there is a new cardmember offer where Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically. This is a great way to get a lot of rewards without needing to do any extra work.In addition to a cashback program, this card provides valuable credit resources such as free access to your FICO® Score and a Credit Resource Center — just note these services are available whether you’re a cardholder or not. Discover also takes the guesswork out of wondering when you’re ready for an unsecured card (aka a regular credit card) by performing automatic monthly account reviews, starting at eight months of card membership.

What to look out for: There is a high 25.24% Variable APR for this card, so you could end up paying a lot more than purchase prices if you carry a balance. Try not to overspend and make it a goal to pay each statement in full so you avoid interest charges.

Low deposit

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One's website

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$49, $99, or $200
Regular Purchase APR
26.99% (Variable)

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers qualifying cardholders a lower security deposit compared to other secured cards. You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness. Typical secured cards require you to deposit an amount equal to your credit limit, so this card has added perks for people who qualify for the lower deposits.You can also receive a credit limit increase without making an additional deposit after making your first five monthly payments on time. This is beneficial for people who need a higher credit limit and don’t want to (or can’t) tie up their money in a deposit. Also, you’ll have access to CreditWise® from Capital One® and Platinum Mastercard® benefits that include travel accident insurance and price protection.

What to look out for: The $49 and $99 security deposits are not guaranteed and depend on your creditworthiness — that means you may still have to deposit $200. Also, it’s not a good idea A carry a balance on this card because it has one of the highest APRs at 26.99% (Variable).

Average deposit

Citi® Secured MasterCard®

The information related to Citi® Secured MasterCard® has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Citi® Secured MasterCard®

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
24.74%* (Variable)

The Citi® Secured Mastercard® requires a $200 security deposit, which is typical of secured cards and a good amount to establish your credit line. You can deposit more money if you want to receive a higher credit line, but if you don’t have a lot of money available to deposit, coming up with $200 is manageable. This card doesn’t have any additional card benefits like rewards or insurances, but you can access Citi’s Credit Knowledge Center for financial management tips.

Low APR

Visa® Secured Card from MidSouth Community FCU

APPLY NOW Secured

on MidSouth Community FCU’s secure website

Visa® Secured Card from MidSouth Community FCU

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
11.15% Variable

Because MidSouth Community is a federal credit union, you need to be a member to qualify for this card. Membership is limited to people who work, live, worship, or attend school in the following Middle Georgia counties: Bibb, Baldwin, Crawford, Hancock, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach, Pulaski, Putnam, Twiggs, Washington, and Wilkinson. If you qualify, you may be able to get a secured card with an APR as low as 11.15% Variable.

What to look out for: This card is very restricted, therefore few people will be able to qualify for this low APR secured card.

Unrestricted low APR

Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Affinity Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$250
Regular Purchase APR
12.85% Variable

The Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card requires cardholders to join the Affinity FCU. You may qualify through participating organizations, but if you don’t, anyone can join the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education by making a $5 donation when you fill out your online application. This card has an 12.85% Variable APR, which is one of the lowest rates available for a no annual fee secured card and is nearly half the amount major issuers charge. This is a good rate if you may carry a balance — but try to pay each statement in full.

What to look out for: There may be a membership fee associated with this card if you don’t qualify through participating organizations. The fee you may have to pay is low at $5, but it may be an issue for people who don’t want to pay anything to open a secured card.

Unrestricted federal credit union

Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal

APPLY NOW Secured

on State Department Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$250
Regular Purchase APR
14.24% Variable

The Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal is open to anyone, regardless of residence. If you aren’t eligible through select methods including employees of the U.S. Department of State or members of select organizations, you can join the American Consumer Council during the application process. There is no fee associated with joining since State Department FCU pays the $5 on your behalf. There is a rewards program with this card where you earn Flexpoints, which can be redeemed for a variety of options like gift cards and travel. The APR can be as low as 14.24% Variable, which is reasonable considering many secured cards from major issuers are above 23%.

What to look out for: If you decide to take out this card and become a member of the SDFCU by joining the American Consumer Council, make sure you do not go to the ACC’s website and submit a $5 donation. That fee is waived by the SDFCU when you fill out your credit application. Simply select “I do not qualify to join through any of these other methods:” and select the ACC from the menu to avoid the $5 fee.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at [email protected]

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