It is technically true is that you can check your credit score for “free” on various websites. But almost all of them come with some major strings attached:
- You have to enroll in a “trial membership” and cancel it within a given period of time (usually seven days) or your credit card will be charged a monthly fee. Worse yet, some programs will charge several of fees at once.
- You will not receive a free FICO credit score. Yes, quite misleading, eh? What you end up getting is a VantageScore, PLUS Score, or one of any number of competing but not quite valuable scoring types. They might be useful for guesstimating your creditworthiness, but they can’t substitute a true FICO credit score, since that’s the gold standard of the lending industry.
But now for the good news… it might still be possible. If you want to learn how to get a free FICO score, keep reading…
Method #1. Apply for credit card that gives you a free FICO (perhaps the best option)
Several major card issuers are offering free FICO scores to their cardholders with their monthly statements or online:
Barclaycard: Beginning in Q4 of 2014, Barclaycard started offering some cardholders the ability to view their FICO scores for free by logging into their online accounts. Cardholders, who have to opt in to see their scores, can also sign up for email alerts to be notified if their score changes.
Discover: Discover started offering free FICO scores on customer billing statements each month beginning in 2015.
Wal-Mart credit card: The Wal-Mart card issued by GE Capital allows cardholders to view their FICO for free online — if they enroll in electronic statements.
Citi: Citi announced in late-2014 that it would give its cardholders online access to their FICO scores, beginning sometime in 2015 — and it has already begun doing so. The score is the same one Citi uses to make its lending decisions
Chase: Chase began offering free FICO-score access on its Slate card in March 2015.
American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner): Following a successful pilot program, American Express rolled out free FICO score access to all its credit and charge card holders in August 2015.
Method #2: Free FICO Score Estimator
On MyFICO there is a free tool to estimate your score. How useful is it? Well I gave it a whirl myself to find out.
There’s a survey of 10 questions, but many of them have follow-up questions depending on your answers, so the real number is more like 15 or so.
After you answer all of them, it comes back and tells you the estimated number. Here’s what it showed for me:
My actual credit score is 790, so the top number is close but no cigar. However even if I didn’t know what my number really was, I feel this range is way too broad to be of much use.
The difference between a 730 score and a 780 is substantial. The latter should qualify you for just about any credit card or loan (assuming you meet the income requirements). On the other hand, I regularly hear from people with 730 getting turned down for even for mid-tier credit cards.
Conclusion? The FICO score estimator is a poor substitute for the real thing.
Method #3. Free score after “adverse action”
Have any of the following happened to you…
- Applied for a credit card or loan and got denied?
- Got approved for a card or loan but not at the best rate?
- Had you interest rate jacked up on an existing account?
Anytime a creditor takes “adverse action” due to your score, you are entitled to see it. The law has been in effect since 2011 and was part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (that’s a mouthful).
But please understand that not all “adverse actions” are due to your FICO score.
For example, Bank of America might decide to jack up your APR only because of a high debt to credit ratio on your account. Even though your rate went up, you wouldn’t be entitled to the free FICO score if it wasn’t part of their decision.
Or “adverse action” might occur due to a different score type. When that’s the case, the creditor is required to tell you the score and the range used, but they don’t have to tell you the type of score used. For example, if VantageScore was used, their letter might just say it was based on a 501-990 range and then list your number with that scale. (Note: If the letter says a range of 300-850 then it’s FICO.)
When an “adverse action” happens, the creditor is required to send you this information automatically in the mail. You won’t have to ask for it.
On a related note, anytime you apply for a mortgage, you also get your FICO score (it doesn’t matter if you are approved or denied). That’s the result of a different law and has been in effect for almost a decade.
Method #4: A score offer that provides true FICO
At the top I ranted about those credit score websites that are using non-FICO scores. But not all of them are bad apples.
Below are the three entities that provide a genuine FICO score. Keep in mind that checking your own score does not hurt you because only a soft pull credit inquiry is being performed (not a hard credit inquiry).
Equifax – The drawback is that you can’t get a free FICO credit score through them. However, you can buy your FICO + Equifax credit report for a reasonable price.
This is a good idea if you plan on applying for a mortgage or loan in the future and want to know your FICO ahead of time.
Experian – Experian started offering FICO scores based on its data in Dec. 2014. You can get your score as part of Experian’s paid monthly credit-monitoring service.
MyFICO – With this one there is a trial, and if you cancel within the allotted period, then you will get it for free. However they only let you do the trial once every 24 months. So it’s not like you can make a habit out of using it.
A drawback is that a free FICO score without a credit card won’t be possible with this trial. Why? Because they require a credit card so they can charge you if you don’t cancel in time. The truly unpleasant part is that rather than charging you for one month, they charge you for three…
At $14.95 a month, that’s a $44.85 charge… an expensive mistake to make if you forget to cancel.
So, those are the current options on free scores
Four different methods to obtain your FICO score (or an estimate). Not all of them are free or without strings attached, but at least you now know the truth about who offers FICO and who offers FAKO.
Lastly, it’s important to note that there is no free FICO score from the government. You can get your credit reports for free through AnnualCreditReport.com (which is mandated, but not operated, by the government) — but you do not get your scores for free through that website.
Updated April 8, 2016