Discover provides free FICOs for all

Discover has given its cardholders free access to their FICO (TransUnion) FICO scores for a few years now. But it’s taken that several steps further to offer free Experian FICO scores to everyone (not just cardholders).

The new service is called Credit Scorecard, and it’s the first free, widely available credit-tracking service to offer a free FICO score.

What Credit Scorecard offers

Once you sign up (again, you don’t have to be a Discover cardholder), you’ll get access to your Experian FICO score and a personalized credit summary. That summary includes:

  • Total number of accounts reporting to Experian
  • Length of credit history
  • Number of inquiries reported on your Experian report
  • Revolving credit utilization
  • Number of missed payments on your Experian report

Discover scorecard dashboard summary

You also get a more complete version of your Scorecard, which includes a breakdown of the scoring factors in your summary, how your score compares to others your age, and the factors that are helping and hurting your score:

discover scorecard helping and  hurting

Your Credit Scorecard will refresh every 30 days.

How does it compare?

There are lots of free-credit-score sites out there, both from issuers (like Capital One) and from other parties (like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, etc.). Each has features to consider, and some are more robust than others.

How Credit Scorecard may be better: It’s quite simple – Credit Scorecard offers you a free Experian FICO score, and it’s the first widely available free service to do so.

FICO is the most popular score among lenders, so knowing where you stand before applying for a card or a loan is extremely valuable. Granted, you have two other FICO scores (from TransUnion and Equifax), and you should know all three before applying for a major loan, like a mortgage. After all, each credit bureau may have slightly different information on you and produce a slightly different FICO score. But, when it comes to keeping tabs on your credit health and knowing when you’re ready for a card designed for excellent credit, having access to your Experian FICO score is a powerful asset.

Before Credit Scorecard, you had to buy your FICO scores (for about $20 each) or have a credit card that offers free FICO scores.

How Credit Scorecard may fall behind: As valuable as your FICO score is, Credit Scorecard doesn’t offer some of the features that other free-score services and websites do. For example, you get just a summary of your Experian report data. You don’t get access to an actual credit report, which other services provide (see a list here). Being able to see your report is helpful, as it allows you to spot mistakes or evidence of identity theft (such as accounts opened by a fraudster in your name). Some sites even email you alerts whenever something on your report changes.

Other free-score sites also have score-prediction tools, which allow you to see how your score might fluctuate if you, say, closed an account or applied for a new one.

The bottom line

How exactly Credit Scorecard measures up to other similar services may be beside the point, however. All these sites are free. And all of them employ a soft pull on your credit, meaning you could sign up for all of them at once and not harm your credit.

So, if you want to feel fully advised of your credit health, you may want to utilize several services and stitch them together to get a nearly complete credit picture. We can say, however, that, while it may not give you anything you want, Discover’s Credit Scorecard is a vital piece of your credit-tracking puzzle, as it’s the only free service to offer an Experian FICO score.

Compare other free-score services in the table below:

Comparing sites that offer free credit scores/reports
Free score typesFree credit report?Frequency of score/report updatesExplanation of score factorsFree credit monitoringCredit score prediction/simulator tool?
Credit KarmaVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion and EquifaxYES. From TransUnion and EquifaxEvery 7 daysYESYES, via TransUnionYES
Credit SesameVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion.NO. Can pay per viewing ($9.95 for TransUnion report) or via monthly subscription (starts at $7.95/month for monthly access to TransUnion, Equifax and Experian reports).MonthlyYESYES, via TransUnionNO
QuizzleVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion.YES. TransUnion report.Every three months (every month for paid accounts)YESNO. Can pay for monitoring plan (starts at $8/month)NO
My.CreditCards.comVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionYES. TransUnion report.MonthlyYESYES, via TransUnionNO
Credit.comVantage 3.0 from Experian; Experian National Equivalency ScoreNo. Must sign up for access to Experian report with Experian CreditWorks ($1 for 7-day trial, then $21.95/month)MonthlyYESNO. Requires paid plan.NO
Mint.comEquifax Credit Score (proprietary model used by Equifax)NO. Can get Equifax credit report via Mint Credit Monitor ($16.99/month).Quarterly score. Monthly for paid subscribers. Monthly credit report via Mint Credit Monitor (paid)YESNO. Three-bureau monitoring via Mint Credit Monitor.NO
Wise PiggyVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionNO. Provides “Account Summary”MonthlyYESNONO
Lending TreeVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionNOMonthlyYESNONO

Is it too late to book a summer trip with rewards?

You were planning on taking a summer vacation — and have enough airline reward miles in your account to go … somewhere. But you never exactly got around to booking the flights. And now it’s the middle of May.

Because summer travel is so popular, finding seats now could prove tricky.last minute summer travel

If you have fixed-value points (like Southwest points or JetBlue miles), you can redeem for any available seat on the plane, as long as you have enough points. However, tiered-redemption carriers, (like Delta, American, United and some international airlines) open up limited numbers of seats at various redemption “tiers.”

Therefore, this close in, you may find no seats – or only seats at higher redemption tiers, says Dominic Perilli with rewards-booking service AwardBandit.

“I will say that most space to popular destinations for this summer has closed at the saver level and airlines have begun offering the higher-level redemptions exclusively,” Perilli says.

So, with summer just around the corner, do you have any chance at using your miles?

Upping your chances of finding remaining saver seats requires flexibility – and some comfort with risk.

Be flexible about class of service

If you want to leave the country, you may have more luck finding economy than premium-cabin seats (of which there are precious few on any given plane), says Kam Ahmadi (whose clients know him as Kam), founder of rewards-booking service AwardAdvocate. If you absolutely must travel in a premium cabin, your luck depends on the diversity of your points.

“It’s always good to diversify points,” Ahmadi says. “If you can’t find [a premium-cabin seat] with one carrier, you might find one with another.”

Match your destination to your point type

If your heart is set on a specific destination — and you have only one type of airline miles — you may have to set your heart on another if you want to travel this summer.

For example, Ahmadi says, if you have American Airlines miles, getting to Europe won’t be easy – so consider Asia or the Middle East instead. United miles, on the other hand, are generally a better fit for Europe, Ahmadi says.

Be flexible about your plans

Certain “gateway” cities see lots more flights, meaning you’ll find more rewards space if you use them as a starting point. To up your chances at getting a rewards flight to Europe, for example, consider getting yourself to Chicago, New York or another major East Coast city, Ahmadi says.

The same goes for your destination. Europe is well connected by rail and budget airlines. So you could use your rewards to get to a major city and then find your way to your intended destination.

“A lot of people say they want to go to Milan,” Ahmadi says. “Well, not a lot of flights go to Milan. But you have lots of flights going to London, and of course there are going to be a lot more seats available.”

Perilli says his ability to book last-minute flights for clients depends almost entirely on their flexibility. For example, a client of his wanted to fly from Fairbanks, Alaska, to New York. The number of miles needed out of Fairbanks was “astronomical,” Perilli says, so the client drove to Anchorage.

“Even being flexible by one or more days could be a game changer and could provide you with success in finding space,” Perilli says.

Be comfortable with booking at the very last minute

Does the thought of booking a flight mere days in advance (especially an international one) give you anxiety? Take a deep breath because booking close-in flights may be your best bet.

Airlines don’t have a hard-and-fast formula for opening up reward seats, Perilli emphasizes. However, their system boils down to supply and demand.

“If a specific flight is getting close to departure date and over half the seats are empty, airlines tend to open up a handful of [rewards] seats for loyal customers,” Perilli says.

If you’re after a premium-cabin seat, you may have to hold on to the bitter end – just a few days before departure.

Ahmadi did exactly that for a recent trip.

“I had a 17-day trip to Europe planned out,” he says. “I had all the hotels booked, all the domestic flights booked. I had everything booked, except for the flights going out.”

Ahmadi wanted three first-class seats on Lufthansa, and he was reasonably confident those would open up. And they did — two days before departure.

Winning the last-minute-booking game requires knowing how many seats are still available for sale. If you know there are eight first-class seats on the plane and six or seven are still not booked, “there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to get seats opening up,” Ahmadi says.

You can use software (like Expert Flyer) to monitor seats. You can also pretend to do a cash booking and take it as far as the seat-selection process.

Look at partner airlines

If you have miles for one airline in an alliance (Sky Team, StarAlliance or Oneworld), you can use them on any airline in that alliance, opening up a spectrum of foreign carriers.

This is especially advantageous because some foreign carriers (including Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa) have a track record for good last-minute availability, Ahmadi says.

Be comfortable with loose ends

Many travelers, Ahmadi says, “are scared not to book everything at once.” But piecing together a last-minute itinerary requires taking opportunities as they come – for example, by pouncing on a lucrative outgoing rewards seat and waiting for a return flight to come along.

“People will say, ‘Oh I don’t really feel comfortable until we have the flights all together,’” Ahmadi says. “Well, by that time, the other flight might become available and this one won’t be there.”

This is also where diversifying your points can pay off. You might use American points to get to your destination and then later find a United seat coming back. Having a card with multiple airline transfer partners can help with this.

Take close-in booking fees into account

Some airlines charge $75 to $100 per rewards seat booked within three weeks of departure, Perilli says. Whether the fee is worth it depends on the value of the flight — $75 may not hurt that much if you’re booking a rewards flight worth a few grand.

“Your opinion may change if you are traveling with a party of five rather than just yourself,” Perilli says.

Airlines often waive close-in booking fees if you have elite status. And not all carriers charge them, Ahmadi says. So look at other carriers in your airline’s alliance and book with one that doesn’t charge the fees.

Consider saving your rewards for another time

If you can’t be flexible in all the ways listed above, booking rewards trip in May for a summer trip may not be the best way to maximize your miles.

“My honest advice — don’t book last-minute travel for summer” Perilli says. “And that is assuming award space is even available.”

If you do find a rewards seat, look at the value you’re getting per point, Perilli recommends. (Check out our guide on calculating point value). If you’re getting a poor value (typically considered less than 1 cent per point) and you can afford to pay for the flight, “it makes sense in this case to pay cash for your trip and then use miles at a better time later on,” Perilli says.

These cards can shorten your time in the dreaded TSA line

As showcased in a snarkily-narrated viral video recorded at Chicago’s Midway airport, travelers are doing a lot of time in TSA screening lines.

 FredFroese/E+/Getty Images

FredFroese/E+/Getty Images

Even conscientious passengers arriving more than two hours early for domestic itineraries are missing flights. Some are getting stranded overnight (prompting airlines to set up cots and distribute snacks and water). TSA, meanwhile, is pointing the finger at increasing numbers of air travelers, the agency’s own staffing decreases, and airline baggage-check fees (which mean more carry-on bags clogging up the TSA lines).

And to think the summer travel season is just beginning.

Instead of waiting on TSA to increase its efficiency (not likely) or resigning yourself to showing up at the airport four hours early, you may be able to alleviate your wait via some credit card perks and strategies.

Get a card that reimburses for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

PreCheck is TSA’s program that allows passengers who have passed requisite screening to go through an expedited line at the airport without removing shoes, belt or jacket. Liquids and laptops can stay in their bags. Global Entry (which expedites the customs process for approved travelers returning to the U.S.) includes PreCheck.

When TSA cut its staff due to decreased funding, it expected PreCheck enrollment would keep screening lines in check. But enrollment has been too low for that to happen. For one thing, there’s a cost to enroll ($85 for PreCheck and $100 for Global Entry). For another, you have to complete an in-person interview during business hours. And guess what — there are increasing waits at TSA PreCheck enrollment centers:

TSA precheck enrollment center wait

Some credit cards can at least help you with the cost part by reimbursing you (via a statement credit) for PreCheck and/or Global Entry fees:

American Express Platinum and Business Platinum ($450 annual fee): Reimbursement for PreCheck or Global Entry (American Express is a CreditCardForum Advertising Partner).

Citi Prestige ($450 annual fee): Reimbursement for Global Entry

Luxury Card (Gold and Black versions) from Barclaycard ($495 or $995 annual fee): Reimbursement for Global Entry

Citi AAdvantage Executive card ($450 annual fee): Reimbursement for PreCheck or Global Entry

AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard ($195 annual fee): Reimbursement for Global Entry

Expedia+ Voyager card ($95 annual fee) from Citi: Each year, you’ll get a $100 statement credit, which can be used toward the PreCheck or Global Entry Application fee.

If news images of nightmarish security lines prompt more interest in PreCheck, you can expect the PreCheck lines to get longer. However, as you don’t have to remove articles of clothing, separate out your liquids and put your laptop in a plastic bin, the line will likely move much faster.

Milk your card for access to the priority screening line

Airlines often open access to the airport’s “Priority” security screening lane (assuming the terminal you’re at has one) to passengers who have achieved elite status, even when they’re not flying first class. You still have to do the take-off-your-shoes-and-open-your-laptop-case dance, but, as elite passengers are a small subset of travelers, you’ll be able to stride past the hoi polloi snaking their way through the regular security line.

The following premium (high-annual-fee) co-branded airline cards get you past the premier-access velvet rope if you purchased the ticket with the card and are flying the airline that day:

Delta: The Delta Reserve card and Delta Reserve for Business SkyMiles cards ($450 annual fee) get you into the Sky Priority security line at participating airports. The reservation must include the primary cardholder’s SkyMiles number. Others on the same reservation may use the priority lane as well.

American: The Citi AAdvantage Executive card ($450 annual fee) gets you access to the priority screening line at participating airports. The reservation must include the primary cardholder’s AAdvantage number. Up to eight other travelers on your reservation get access, too.

United: The MileagePlus Club card ($450 annual fee) gets you Premier Access benefits, which includes the priority screening lane. The reservation must include the primary cardholder’s MileagePlus number. Traveling companions on the same reservation can join you in the premier line.

Is the cost worth it?

You’ll notice a pattern among cards that offer a speedier route through security – they all have high annual fees. If you won’t use the cards’ other benefits, it will probably be more cost-effective to just pay for PreCheck if you want to avoid lines. However, if you’re a frequent traveler in the market for a premium travel card, premier-lane access and refunds for PreCheck applications sweeten the deal (especially these days). And if you already have one of the cards above and haven’t taken advantage of its security-screening benefits, get the ball rolling to save yourself the wait on your next trip.

Updated May 25, 2016

If you think your good (or even excellent) credit score means your card application will be a slam dunk, don’t be so sure.

Issuers don’t look at just your score, but at your complete credit picture. So even the credit elite can get rejected for cards, for the following reasons:

pink_cotton_candy/E+/Getty Images

pink_cotton_candy/E+/Getty Images

1. Your credit history is too short: If you have no major wounds (like bankruptcies) in your credit history, you may be surprised how quickly you can achieve good to excellent credit.

“After a few years of credit history, you may not have a perfect FICO score, bit it could start to look pretty good,” says David Weliver, founding editor of personal finance site Money Under 30.

However, some issuers will want you to prove yourself a bit longer – and may reject your application because they want, say, five years of credit history and you have only three.

“Those super-prime card offers are the ones that are most likely to have stringent credit standards,” Weliver says.

2. You have too many credit inquiries: Credit applications may ding your score, but if was high enough to begin with, they may not tank it.

However, new credit applications in quick succession give issuers pause, as it makes you look “credit-hungry,” Weliver says. So the bank may choose to pass on you, even if your score is still strong.

3. It looks like you’ve been churning: Banks don’t like it when you sign up for a rewards card to collect the sign-up bonus and then cancel when it comes time to pay the annual fee. But some tolerate it more than others.

Chase has started cracking down on churners with what’s being called the “5/24 rule.” If you’ve opened five or more cards within the past 24 months (with any bank), Chase will reject you (for some of its products, increasingly more) no matter how great your credit is.

“Most churners do have excellent credit, so the 5/24 rule is Chase’s way to prevent churners from being approved for their cards,” says Patti Geroulis, co-writer and co-founder of The Travel Sisters blog. “Chase thinks that only churners apply for that many cards in 24 months.”

Even cards you’re an authorized user on count toward that five-card quota, “which is ironic because Chase encourages adding authorized users [on some cards] by giving an extra 5,000 points as a sign-up bonus for adding an authorized user,” Geroulis says.

Other issuers have anti-churning rules in place, but Chase’s 5/24 rule is more extreme, as it involves outright rejection. American Express, Geroulis notes, may deny you a sign-up bonus if you’ve gotten it on the same card in a past, but you’re still eligible for the card.

4. You have too many products with the same bank: Banks want your business. What they don’t want is to be left holding the debt bag if you decide to stop paying your balances.

“A bank will probably be happy if you have a loan and a couple cards with them,” Weliver says, “But at some point they’re going to say you have enough.”

If you’re denied a card you really want, you might call the reconsideration line and ask if you can move available credit from an existing card to the new one – or close an old card entirely.

5. Your income isn’t high enough:
Income has no direct bearing on your credit score, but it can influence an issuer’s decision to approve you.

On your application, you’ll be asked to disclose your income. If the issuer thinks it’s not high enough to cover your outstanding obligations and the new credit limit, it may reject your application.

“They’ll look at your credit report and say, ‘Ok you have a mortgage that has this payment, a car loan with this payment and two credit cards that could have, if you max them out, this minimum payment,’” Weliver says. “Based on the income you reported could you still afford more credit? If those numbers don’t add up, they’ll probably turn you down.”

True, some issuers may simply decide to approve you for the card and give you a lower credit line. Some premium cards, however, may have a minimum credit limit ($5,000 for example). If the issuer doesn’t think your income can support that minimum limit, you won’t get the card.

6. You’re using too much of your credit limits: High credit utilization (using up a lot of your credit limits) will eventually lower your score.

“But it’s possible to have a very good FICO score and still be close to maxing out on a card,” Weliver says.

The issuer may not be comfortable with that.

Even if you pay off all your balances in full each month, high balances may be reported to the credit bureaus – and, thus, displayed to the issuer – because balances are generally reported when your statement cuts each month.

“Let’s say you’re running a business and you put all your expenses on the card,” Weliver says. “Those high balances will still report to the credit bureaus, so it’ll look like you’re maxed out.”

The way around this problem? Pay your balances off several days before your statement cuts.

7. You made a late payment: Thrilled that your score has rebounded from a late payment six months ago? Your slip-up might still bar you from getting a card.

“They may have criteria where they won’t take anyone with a late payment in the past year,” Weliver says.

8. You’re on the issuer’s black list: Bankruptcies (depending on the type) fall off your credit report either seven or 10 years after you filed. Your issuer, however, may have a longer memory, if your debts with them were discharged in that bankruptcy and you never paid them.

Issuer blacklists due to bankruptcies have never been definitively proven, and certainly aren’t published. However, we’ve had plenty of reports from forum members who appear to have ended up on issuers’ blacklists.

If you’re about to apply for a major loan (such as a mortgage or auto loan), we recommend purchasing your FICO scores and paying for your credit reports (if you’ve already used up your free yearly reports from AnnualCreditReport.com).

However, if you just want to monitor your credit over a long period of time and track your improvement, you can cobble together a pretty accurate credit picture from the various free scoring and monitoring sites out there.

AndreyPopov / iStock / Getty Images

AndreyPopov / iStock / Getty Images

Our chart below shows exactly what you can get for free from Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, My.CreditCards.com and the rest. But first, here are some guidelines for using these sites while building your credit:

None of these sites provides FICO scores

In everyday parlance, “FICO score” and “credit score” have become synonymous and interchangeable. They are not. FICO is still the most popular score among lenders and the score that will likely get pulled if you apply for a card or loan. Most of the free scoring services provide your VantageScore (a competitor of FICO that doesn’t have the same popularity). It’s still a legitimate credit score, but it will differ from your FICO score.

If you need your FICO scores, you’ll have to buy them (one from each of the three credit bureaus) for about $20 a pop or get a credit card that gives you free FICO score access.


Not all these sites provide scores AND reports

While watching your credit score go up is probably more exciting than poring over the small print of your credit reports, it’s important to monitor both. Your reports will show you which accounts are tied to your identity – and will show the first evidence of any fraudulent accounts opened in your name.

Unfortunately, not all sites that provide free credit scores also provide free reports. And, of those that do, none provide a free Experian report (although TransUnion and Equifax are accessible for free on some sites). If you’re not applying for a major loan, though, regular free access to one or two of your reports is probably enough to monitor your credit. And you can get all three of your reports once a year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.

You’ll need to sign up for at least two sites to get scores from all three credit bureaus

There are three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each has slightly different data on you (although most major banks report to all three), and there’s no telling which one a lender will turn to when it pulls your credit. While no free credit-scoring site will provide you with scores from all three bureaus, you can get all three by signing up for a combination of sites. For example, you can get TransUnion and Equifax scores from Credit Karma and an Experian score from Credit.com.

Don’t assume you need paid credit monitoring

Some free-score sites provide free credit monitoring, meaning you’ll get an update whenever something on your credit report changes – the credit report tied to the bureau the site partners with, anyway. It’s a useful service. But the only bureau available for free credit monitoring on any of these sites is TransUnion. If you’re not a victim of identity theft, however, that’s probably enough. Most banks report to all three bureaus – so just use the free TransUnion monitoring if your site of choice offers it and check your other reports every year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you are a victim of identity theft and need more hard-core credit monitoring, there are plenty of companies that offer paid monitoring and ID-protection services.


Comparing sites that offer free credit scores/reports
Free score typesFree credit report?Frequency of score/report updatesExplanation of score factorsFree credit monitoringCredit score prediction/simulator tool?
Credit KarmaVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion and EquifaxYES. From TransUnion and EquifaxEvery 7 daysYESYES, via TransUnionYES
Credit SesameVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion.NO. Can pay per viewing ($9.95 for TransUnion report) or via monthly subscription (starts at $7.95/month for monthly access to TransUnion, Equifax and Experian reports).MonthlyYESYES, via TransUnionNO
QuizzleVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion.YES. TransUnion report.Every three months (every month for paid accounts)YESNO. Can pay for monitoring plan (starts at $8/month)NO
My.CreditCards.comVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionYES. TransUnion report.MonthlyYESYES, via TransUnionNO
Credit.comVantage 3.0 from Experian; Experian National Equivalency ScoreNo. Must sign up for access to Experian report with Experian CreditWorks ($1 for 7-day trial, then $21.95/month)MonthlyYESNO. Requires paid plan.NO
Mint.comEquifax Credit Score (proprietary model used by Equifax)NO. Can get Equifax credit report via Mint Credit Monitor ($16.99/month).Quarterly score. Monthly for paid subscribers. Monthly credit report via Mint Credit Monitor (paid)YESNO. Three-bureau monitoring via Mint Credit Monitor.NO
Wise PiggyVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionNO. Provides “Account Summary”MonthlyYESNONO
Lending TreeVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionNOMonthlyYESNONO