I’m sure you’ve seen all those commercials and advertisements pitching a free credit score. Sounds great, right? Except once you go to the web site, you realize you have to provide your credit card to get your score for free.
Why do they need a credit card if the score is free? Because it isn’t.
In order to get a free credit score from one of those sites, you have to sign up for an ongoing service, like a credit monitoring plan. And unless you cancel within the allotted time period, they conveniently start charging the credit card you gave them.
$14.95 a month, forever. Yuk!
More importantly, most people don’t realize that the score they actually get typically isn’t a FICO score (the score you care about most when applying for a mortgage or getting an auto loan); rather, it’s a score based on one of the other credit scoring models (these scores are affectionately known as a “FAKO” scores).
And since you can get your FAKO score from several companies for free, why would you want to sign up and pay for a monthly subscription service?
Today, I’ll show you three ways to access your credit score completely for free, with no need for credit card!
I’ll also explain when it’s a good idea to pay for your FICO score and where you can go to purchase it (since it’s becoming increasingly difficult to simply buy a standalone FICO score).
Obtaining Your Credit Score
First, let’s take a look at the current options available to get your credit score. Specifically, there are three ways, one of which we’ve already discussed:
1) Purchase it directly from one of the three major credit bureaus or through MyFICO.com
2) Get it as a “bonus” when you sign up for a credit monitoring plan or some other subscription service
3) Access it through one of the new Web 2.0 credit scoring companies
As I alluded to earlier, however, it’s important to remember that the term “credit score” is generic in nature. That’s because there are numerous different credit scoring models.
For example, if you tell someone you have a credit score of 650, it’s like saying, “I got 12 questions correct on my exam.”
Great. Out of how many?
12 correct answers looks pretty good if there were only 15 questions on the test, but what if there were 50?
Likewise, without knowing some additional information, like which model your score is based on and what the score range is for that model, a single number doesn’t tell us a whole lot.
So keep in mind that how and where you get your credit score is important. In fact, in all likelihood you will end up with a different score product altogether depending on which of the above routes you choose.
For more information on the different credit scoring models (including FICO, NextGen, PLUS, VantageScore, etc.) see my prior post on understanding credit scoring.
How to Get Your Score for Free
Two innovative companies, Credit Sesame and Credit Karma, have launched sites within the last five years to serve the demand for free credit scores. Both offer 100% free scores, without the need to provide a credit card or sign up for any monthly service.
And in my opinion, if you just want to track your overall progress and monitor how different factors impact your score over time, both services are awesome! Let’s take a look at each of them in a bit more detail:
Credit Sesame (Experian) offers users a free credit score that’s based on the Experian National Equivalency Score model. My understanding is that the range for this model is 360 to 840; however, the graph on Credit Sesame shows a range of 300 to 850 (I’m seeking clarification on this). That said, you can update your score once per month and Credit Sesame provides some charts and analytics around your credit utilization and monthly payments.
Credit Sesame also highlights the key factors that impacted your score and some basic advice on how to improve your score. Finally, you can input information about your debts and get recommendations to save on interest through a refinance or a better credit card.
Credit Karma (TransUnion) gives you a free credit score using the TransUnion TransRisk score model. The score range for the TransRisk model is the same as the FICO range, 300 to 850. The nice part about Credit Karma is that you can update your score as often as you want (technically, once per day). Recently, Credit Karma also started providing users with the VantageScore (a model jointly created by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and the TransUnion Auto Insurance Risk Score (a model designed to assess your risk to an auto insurance company).
Like Credit Sesame, Credit Karma also provides analysis about your credit and debt positions. However, the analytics and advice that Credit Karma provides are far more advanced. You get everything from a credit report card, which gives you letter grades on a host of different categories that impact your credit, to a comparison tool so you can see where you rank compared to other users.
The best part is even though both services are free, they still have the ability to make money, which means the features and tools they provide are likely to improve as time goes by.
Both of them operate similarly to Mint, by delivering targeted advertisements and recommendations for various financial products that will hopefully save you money. In the case of Credit Sesame, those offers primarily consist of bank loans. For Credit Karma, the recommendations range from checking and savings accounts to credit cards.
Although you might not be interested in the recommendations, the free credit scores are very valuable in my opinion.
And finally, here is the third way to get your credit score completely free:
The Equifax Credit Score Card (Equifax) is a recent offering from Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus, which gives you access to the Equifax Risk Score. The range for this scoring model is 280 to 850. The only catch here is that the Credit Score Card doesn’t provide you with an exact score, but rather just a score range.
I’m glad Equifax decided to make this service available (even if they don’t advertise it), but it’s usefulness is somewhat limited since the only feedback you get is whether your score is Low (280 – 559), Below Average (560 – 659), Average (660 – 724), Above Average (725 – 759), or High (760 – 850).
So there you have it! Three 100% free ways to get your credit score without a credit card.
Remember, since each of these services are pulling data from a different credit bureau (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax), it’s best to check all three scores to ensure you don’t overlook any negative items that might be hurting your score.
When to Pay for Your Score
If you anticipate doing any of the following in the near future, I would definitely recommend paying for your FICO score, as opposed to relying on the free score services:
- Applying for a mortgage
- Getting a home equity loan or home equity line of credit
- Purchasing a car (unless you are 100% sure you will pay cash)
- Applying for business or trade credit
The reason is because 90% of the largest banks use FICO scores when making credit decisions. And although other scoring models are slowly increasing their market share, when it comes to something as big as a mortgage, it’s worth the $20 to purchase your FICO score.
Additionally, remember that if you are denied credit or insurance, you have a right to a free credit report and score (under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act) .
However, if the company that denied you used some other scoring model besides FICO in evaluating your application, I would also consider paying for your FICO score. This way you can confirm whether the issue is isolated or more broadly problematic.
When you decide to purchase your FICO score, there are only two ways I would recommend doing it:
- Directly from Equifax
- Through MyFICO.com (where you can purchase either your Equifax or TransUnion FICO score)
Note that Experian officially stopped selling FICO scores to consumers in 2009. As of this writing, TransUnion appears to have done the same.
Although there are other ways to get your FICO score, as I noted earlier, most of them involve signing up for a subscription service and paying a monthly fee.