A Guide to Getting Your Free Credit Score

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Updated on Wednesday, May 5, 2021

checking credit score
iStock

As a consumer of financial products, it’s important to monitor your credit score on a regular basis. This will ensure 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.

Typically, a higher score means you’ll be able to qualify for lower interest rates and better products. Plus, monitoring your credit score can help you spot changes to your credit history, such as those that might be caused by a bill being sent to collections or someone fraudulently opening credit cards in your name.

It’s important to note that you can have a variety of credit scores. These scores vary depending on what scoring model they’re generated with, what they’re used for, and which of the three credit bureaus your information is being pulled from.

Lenders will often pull specific scores depending on the product you’re applying for. The good news is that it’s possible to access your credit scores for free from a variety of sources. We’ll explain two of the top scoring models — FICO and VantageScore — and show options for getting your score for free.

 

Finding the Right Credit Score

Where to Access Your Credit Score for Free

LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, offers a free account where you can check your VantageScore 3.0 credit score. You can also use your LendingTree account to review your utilization and available credit history, analyze your cash flow, and get tips on ways to save on loans and insurance. And in case there’s incorrect data on your credit report that you need to dispute, LendingTree’s Dispute Center makes it easy to file a dispute online with TransUnion.

If you want to get your credit score for free from one of the major credit bureaus, Experian offers your FICO® Score 8 when you sign up for Experian Boost. Plus, Experian Boost might help you improve your credit score by allowing you to build a credit history with payments that don’t normally impact your score, such as your cellphone bill and popular streaming services. Be aware that this only makes a difference when lenders use Experian data — in situations where your credit score is being pulled from Equifax or TransUnion data, Experian Boost won’t help you out.

Another way you might be able to get your credit score for free is through your bank or credit card issuer. For example, if you have a credit card or bank account with American Express, Bank of America, Barclays, Chase, Citi, Discover or Wells Fargo you should be able to get your credit score through their online portal. Here are some institutions that offer credit score access:

BankType of Credit Score
American ExpressVantageScore 3.0 by TransUnion
Bank of AmericaFICO® Score 8 by TransUnion
BarclaysFICO® Score 8 by TransUnion
Capital OneVantageScore 3.0 by TransUnion
ChaseVantageScore 3.0 by Experian
CitiFICO® Bankcard Score 8 by Equifax
DiscoverFICO® Score 8 by TransUnion for consumers who have a Discover credit card

FICO® Score 8 by Experian when using the Credit Scorecard without a card
First National Bank of OmahaFICO® Bankcard Score 9 by Experian
Navy Federal Credit UnionFICO® Score 9 by Equifax
PenFed Credit UnionFICO® Score 9 by Equifax
Sallie MaeFICO® Score 8 by TransUnion
USAAFICO® Score 3 by Experian
U.S. BankVantageScore 3.0 by TransUnion
Wells FargoFICO® Score 9 by Experian
Here’s a complete list of financial institutions that belong to the FICO® Score Open Access Program.

FICO® Score vs. VantageScore

You may be wondering which score is better — FICO 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 type of credit you aim to apply for may influence which score is referenced by a lender. Each credit score version has a different algorithm, and lenders pull certain scores in accordance with your application.

Below we will go over the best credit scores for various financial products — and where you can get them.

 

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

myFICO for $59.85

N/A

Credit Scorecard by Discover

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: Any FICO® Score or VantageScore

Summary: If you’re simply looking to monitor your credit score and make sure you’re on track to build excellent credit, either your FICO® Score or your VantageScore will get the job done.

New Credit Card

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

Where to get them: See our chart above

Summary: 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 credit bureaus.

Mortgage Loans and Mortgage ReFis

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

Where to get them:myFICO.com for $59.85

Summary: 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 available for free and must be purchased at myFICO.

Auto Loans

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

Where to get them:myFICO.com for $59.85

Summary: 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 — as with mortgage-specific scores, you’ll need to go through myFICO to get your auto scores.

Personal Loans, Student Loans, and Retail Credit

The best option: FICO® Score 8

Where to get it: See our chart above

Summary: For financial products such as personal loans, student loans and retail credit, FICO® Score 8 is generally what you should be looking at. 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

Some other credit scoring models you may encounter include:

  • FICO® Score 9
  • FICO® Score 10
  • FICO® 10 T Score
  • FICO® NextGen

FICO® Score 9 is not widely used yet, though you can get it for free — for example, if you have a credit card through Navy Federal Credit Union or Wells Fargo, this is the version of your credit score you’ll get for free with your card. With this scoring model, consumers aren’t penalized for paid collections, and are penalized less severely than previously for unpaid medical collections.

FICO® Score 10 and FICO® 10 T Score are part of the FICO® Score 10 Suite, released in 2020. Two big changes are that delinquencies (late payments) and utilization (how much of your available credit you’re using) can hurt your score more than with previous models. Also, the FICO® 10 T Score incorporates trended data from your behavior over the past 24 months.

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 major consumer credit bureaus that gather data regarding what credit you’ve applied for, what accounts you have open, your payment history, etc. These bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Lenders typically report information to all three bureaus, but that’s not always the case, so there can be discrepancies between what appears on your credit report from each bureau.

The information on your credit reports is what’s used to generate your credit score. If you want to review what’s on your credit reports, you’re entitled to one free report per year from each credit bureau, and the bureaus are offering weekly reports during the coronavirus pandemic. You can order your reports online for free at annualcreditreport.com.

What is a FICO® Score?

A FICO® Score is a three-digit number that gives lenders an idea of how well you’ve managed credit in the past and how likely you are to pay them back in a timely manner if they issue you a credit card or loan. With most scoring models, your FICO® Score will range from 300 to 850.

The higher your score, the more likely you are to get approved for credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, personal loans, and other financial products. A high score also means you’re more likely to qualify for premium products and better rates. According to FICO’s website, “FICO® Scores are used by 90% of top U.S. lenders” — so it pays off to have a good FICO® Score.

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:

  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’s ideal to keep your credit card balances well below 30% of your credit limit. For example, 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, your utilization would be 20%.
  3. Length of credit history (15%):
    This is 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%):
    This applies to the frequency of credit inquiries and new account openings. When you open a new account, your credit score will take a slight dip for about a year, then it should rise — as long as you’re responsible in the other four ways mentioned.
  5. Credit mix (10%):
    This is the different types of credit you have. This includes credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans such as mortgages and auto loans, and other financial products. The more variety of credit you’ve handled responsibly, the better your score will be.

What is a VantageScore?

A VantageScore is a three-digit number that measures your past credit behavior and future credit risk. And like a FICO® Score, your VantageScore ranges from 300 to 850 (though earlier models could range from 501–990). The higher your VantageScore, the better your credit.

VantageScore’s website cites a 2019 study by the global management consulting and research firm Oliver Wyman to show that more than 2,200 financial institutions use VantageScore. However, be aware that your FICO® Score is still more likely to be used in lending decisions.

How is a VantageScore calculated?

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

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 which credit bureau information is being pulled from. Most information will likely be the same, but one bureau may have unique information that another bureau doesn’t have. Also, if you compare your FICO® Score against your VantageScore, be aware that they will differ because they use different criteria and weight their criteria differently.