Your credit score is a three-digit number that's used by banks to approve your application for credit cards, loans, and other credit-based services. Banks aren't the only businesses that use your credit score though. You'll find that utility companies, landlords, cell phone providers, and even some hospitals all check your credit score.
Why Should You Check Your Credit Score
You should check your credit score periodically to see where you stand, but checking it before you make a major credit or loan application is a good idea too. That will give you an idea on whether you'll get approved or not and the kind of interest rate you can expect. People with credit scores lower than 620 find it harder to get applications approved and are left with higher interest rates.
The Different Kinds of Scores
Credit score is a general term given to the numerical value of your credit report. There are specific "brands" of credit scores that are used. The FICO score, named by its developers Fair Isaac Corporation, is most well-known brand of credit score. The VantageScore is another type of credit score developed by the the three credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. FICO Score vs. FAKO Scores tells you all about the different kinds of scores.
Five Ways to to Get Your Credit Score
There are a few different places that you can buy your credit score, but here are some of the most reputable ones.
MyFico.com. This is the only place where you can purchase your FICO score. You can order your FICO score based on your credit report at Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. For a few years, consumers were unable to purchase their FICO scores based on Experian credit report data. Thankfully, FICO and Experian have rekindled their relationship and are once again allowing consumers to purchase Experian-based FICO scores.
Any of the credit bureaus. You can purchase your individual and 3-in-1 credit scores from each of the credit bureaus. Keep in mind that each credit bureau has its own credit scoring model, so your credit scores could differ from each other and might even be different from your FICO score. (See Why Your Credit Scores Are Different.)
Free credit score websites. Three websites currently offer completely free, no-subscription-required credit scores. They are CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com and Quizzle.com. Be wary of any free credit score that asks you to enter a credit card number. You're being enrolled in a trial subscription to a credit monitoring service. If you don't cancel before the trial ends, the company will start charging your credit card for the service.
Your credit card statement. Certain credit card issuers are participating in a new FICO service that allows cardholders to view their FICO scores for free. So far, Discover it, Barclaycard and First National Bank of Omaha credit cards have enrolled in FICO's program. If your credit card issuer participates, you only have to view your monthly statement to see your recent FICO score.
- Be denied for credit or approved for less favorable terms. This method isn't foolproof, but here's how it works. Lenders and credit card issuers are now required to send a copy of the credit score used in a decision to deny an application for credit or to approve the application, but for less favorable terms than those applied for. You don't do anything to receive this credit score, but put in the application. If you qualify, you receive the credit score automatically.
If you don't want to go through the hassle of ordering your credit score or signing up for a new service, you can use MyFICO.com's free credit score estimator. The tool estimates your credit score based on information you enter about your credit history. You'll have to be familiar with the information on your credit report to get an accurate estimate of your credit score.
While there's no law for universally free credit scores, all consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit reports each year from every credit bureau through AnnualCreditReport.com.