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.
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 types||Free credit report?||Frequency of score/report updates||Explanation of score factors||Free credit monitoring||Credit score prediction/simulator tool?|
|Credit Karma||VantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion and Equifax||YES. From TransUnion and Equifax||Every 7 days||YES||YES, via TransUnion||YES|
|Credit Sesame||VantageScore 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).||Monthly||YES||YES, via TransUnion||NO|
|Quizzle||VantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion.||YES. TransUnion report.||Every three months (every month for paid accounts)||YES||NO. Can pay for monitoring plan (starts at $8/month)||NO|
|My.CreditCards.com||VantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion||YES. TransUnion report.||Monthly||YES||YES, via TransUnion||NO|
|Credit.com||Vantage 3.0 from Experian; Experian National Equivalency Score||No. Must sign up for access to Experian report with Experian CreditWorks ($1 for 7-day trial, then $21.95/month)||Monthly||YES||NO. Requires paid plan.||NO|
|Mint.com||Equifax 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)||YES||NO. Three-bureau monitoring via Mint Credit Monitor.||NO|
|Wise Piggy||VantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion||NO. Provides “Account Summary”||Monthly||YES||NO||NO|
|Lending Tree||VantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion||NO||Monthly||YES||NO||NO|