If you got a card to build credit, monitoring your progress is essential. Luckily, a growing number of cards promise cardholders a free peek at their credit scores.
American Express is the most recent (as of August 2015) to start offering cardholders free access to their FICO scores. Other issuers have been extending this benefit in some form for a couple years.
Not all cards offering “free credit scores” give you access to a real-deal FICO score, however. Read on for some important caveats – and check out the chart below to see what your issuer provides.
Some give you FICO, some give you FAKO
“FAKO” is a term used to describe credit scores that aren’t FICO scores. There’s nothing false or misleading about these scores – they simply use different scoring algorithms. Most lenders use FICO, though, so it’s probably wise to obtain your FICO scores before applying for a major loan, if your card gives you, say, a VantageScore. In some cases, however, cards give you access only to an “educational score.” These types of scores aren’t used in lending decisions at all.
To find out whether your card gives you free access to a FICO score or some other type of score, check your terms. If it’s not FICO, that doesn’t mean the free score is useless to you. Monitoring your score (whatever type it is) over time will let you track your credit’s improvement – and alert you to actions that are damaging your credit. When it’s time to take out a major loan, you can always pull and pay for your FICO scores.
Even access to your FICO score won’t give you the full picture
FICO offers a variety of scores tailored to various industries. Even its popular “base” score will have three different versions – one for each of the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). As you’ll notice from the chart below, issuers offering free FICO scores provide only one score from one bureau (often the one it uses to make lending decisions). Another lender might use a FICO score from a different bureau. Because the credit-reporting system is imperfect, some of your credit information (and therefore score) might vary between bureaus, meaning you may want to pull the other bureaus’ FICO scores (for about $20 each) before applying for a major loan.
Not everyone gets access
If someone added you as an authorized user to a card that gives free access to credit scores, don’t get too excited – most cards with this perk extend it only to the primary cardholder. Joint accounts may be excluded as well.
If you’re the primary cardholder and still can’t see your score, keep in mind that some issuers delay access until your account has been open a certain length of time. Others require your account have recent activity, so you may lose access to your score if you sock-drawer your card.
You can still do it on your own
You don’t need a card that gives you free credit-score access to monitor your credit. You can get your credit reports from each of the three bureaus once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com and plug the information from those reports into FICO’s free score estimator. You can also get access to educational scores from all three bureaus by using free services like Credit Karma, Quizzle and Credit Sesame.
Yet, while you can cobble together a pretty accurate credit picture using other methods, having access to an actual FICO score lets you see your credit standing from a lender’s perspective. Convenience is another factor – the ability to simply click over to your score while paying off your card online or verifying transactions on your monthly statement seamlessly incorporates keeping tabs on your credit into your personal finance routine.
|Card issuers that provide free credit-score access|
|Card issuer||Type of score||Other details|
|Discover||FICO score (TransUnion)||Accessible via statements and online. For primary cardmembers only.|
|Barclaycard||FICO score (TransUnion)||Accessible via online banking. Account must have activity within past 150 days.|
|Wal-Mart cards (Synchrony Bank)||FICO score (TransUnion)||For access, enroll in electronic statements.|
|American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner)||FICO score (Experian)||Accessible via online banking|
|Citi||FICO score (Equifax)||Accessible via online banking. Not available for authorized users and joint account holders.|
|Chase||FICO score (Experian)||Slate card only. Accessible via Credit Dashboard online.|
|Capital One||TransUnion educational score||Available online via Credit Tracker|
|USAA||VantageScore||Accessible via online banking and app. Primary and secondary cardholders eligible.|
|PenFed||FICO NextGen score||Accessible via online banking. Also available with checking accounts and installment loans|
|Commerce Bank||FICO score (from bureau used for lending decisions – will be disclosed with score)||On monthly statement. Not available on joint accounts.|
|First National Bank||FICO Bankcard Score 8 (weighs credit card history more heavily)||Accessible via online banking.|
Updated August 1, 2016