Having a good credit score is the key to a lot of things in life. You’ll need one to rent a decent apartment, get a mortgage, and qualify for that fancy travel credit card.
If you’re like most people, you might not know the best way to check your credit score. Staying up to date with your credit score doesn’t have to be stressful. Here’s what you need to know to find out your score.
Types of Credit Scores
One of the most common misconceptions among consumers is that each of us only has one credit score. In reality, we all have dozens (if not hundreds) of different credit scores floating around. There are separate scores for car loans, home loans, and credit cards.
Credit scores are the result of a lender applying a formula to a person’s credit information. There are different formulas for each lending product that assess how likely a person is to pay back that particular credit account.
For example, your mortgage lender will make credit decisions and calculate scores differently than the credit union that owns your private student loan. Don’t worry, though – raising one score will never lower the other. They’ll always be relatively similar.
There are two main types of credit score formulas: FICO and VantageScore. Of the two, FICO is the most popular. 90% of top lenders use FICO scores, and they’re likely to remain the industry standard for years to come.
Lenders apply these formulas to credit reports, each of which comes from a credit bureau. That’s a fancy term for a financial institution that gathers everyone’s credit history, including their credit accounts, payment history, and credit utilization.
Unfortunately, their information isn’t guaranteed to be the same. Lenders might report to any, all, or none of them, so you’ll probably have different profiles at each. The three that reputable lenders use are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Which Credit Score Should You Check?
As I mentioned earlier, the FICO credit score model is by far the most popular. VantageScore is gaining ground, but as of 2021, most of the largest lenders still prioritize FICO.
They come out with a new version every five to ten years or so. The most recent one, FICO Score 9, came out in 2014, but most lenders haven’t switched over to it yet.
FICO Score 8, which came out in 2009, remains the most popular. It’s also probably the closest you’ll get to your “real” credit score.
If you want a baseline score that you can monitor in the future for progress, go with FICO Score 8. Just make sure to work with a credit reporting agency or three to gather scores based on reports from all three bureaus.
Free Credit Scores and Reports Providers
Don’t confuse your credit report with your credit score. If you get a copy of your credit report, you’ll only be seeing the data that goes into calculating your credit score. You won’t get those three magic digits.
These websites are some of the best ways to check your credit score, and they may also provide copies of your reports. You’ll have to give them your Social Security Number, but they’re safe and free to use.
Keep in mind that these are only for checking your personal credit scores. If you want to track down your business credit score, you’ll have to go elsewhere (and probably cough up some cash).
This website is perhaps the best way to check your credit score. Remember, Experian is a major credit bureau, so they (obviously) base their scores on the Experian credit report.
Their free credit check service uses FICO Score 8, so if you’re trying to get that complete picture of your “real” credit score, this will get you a third of the way there.
In addition to the free credit score, Experian also provides a free copy of their report, a credit monitoring service, and a tool for raising your scores by reporting your bills.
Experian is the most popular credit reporting agency, so make sure to take advantage of their generosity. Equifax, in comparison, puts all of their reports and scores behind a paywall.
Credit Karma is a particularly useful site because it provides a free credit score using both the Equifax credit report and the TransUnion credit report. However, they use the VantageScore 3.0 algorithm, not FICO.That’s the most popular version of VantageScore, though, so don’t hesitate to give it a go, especially if you’re looking to apply to a creditor who uses that model. They also provide copies of both reports and a free credit monitoring service.
Credit Sesame pulls their reports from TransUnion and calculates scores with VantageScore 3.0. It may seem like their service is redundant when you can use Credit Karma and get Equifax too, but they have some perks that Credit Karma doesn’t.
Credit Sesame offers a free “credit report card,” which analyzes your credit score and the information in your credit file. It gives you context and grades you on the five factors that make up your VantageScore:
- Payment history (how well you avoid late payments)
- Credit utilization (how high your balances are relative to your credit limit)
- Credit history and age of your credit accounts
- Credit account mix (credit card vs. personal loan vs. line of credit)
- Number of hard inquiries
They also offer free credit monitoring and fraud alert, but they don’t provide the credit report for free. You have to upgrade to a premium Credit Sesame account to get a copy of the credit reports, though they share all three (still, don’t bother).
Credit.com is another solid place to check your credit score. They pull their credit reports from Experian and use the VantageScore 3.0 model. Like Credit Seasame, though, they don’t provide a copy of the credit report, just the score.
Credit.com updates its scores every 14 days. They also provide free credit monitoring and a credit report card similar to Credit Sesame’s.
WalletHub is the last credit reporting company on this list that provides credit scores and reports. They pull from TransUnion and apply the VantageScore 3.0 model. They’ll update your score every week and your credit report daily, which is exceptional.
WalletHub also offers a host of other helpful tools, including a credit score simulator, a rating of your performance in the various credit factors, and recommendations on how to improve your creditworthiness.
Everyone is legally entitled to one free copy of each credit report annually, and this site is the federal government’s attempt to provide that service. They don’t offer scores, though, only the reports.
Still, you can get a copy of all three from this site, and it’s a good idea to take advantage of that to keep up with your credit history. Checking your annual credit report for abnormalities can help you prevent identity theft, among other things.
If you notice something suspicious, you can use a credit freeze to prevent thieves from opening new accounts.
Credit Cards That Provide Free Credit Scores and Reports
The websites above are great resources, but they’re not the only places you can go to get a free credit rating. Some credit card companies offer similar services, often as a way to attract more business.
Some allow everyone to access their service, while others require that you have a credit account with them first. Here’s what they have to offer.
The Discover credit scorecard tool provides your FICO Score 8 based on the credit information in your Experian report. You can use it for free whether or not you have an account, so don’t worry about having to apply for a credit card to get it.
Barclaycard only lets their members access their FICO scores, and they don’t publicly share which version or bureau they use. If you already have a credit card or a personal loan with them, though, it’s probably worth using their credit scoring tool.
Capital One Card
Capital One Card calls their online credit check tool CreditWise. It provides your report and score using TransUnion and VantageScore 3.0.
Their free credit score service may be redundant with all the other sources that use Transunion and VantageScore on this list, but someone who already has a credit card from them may wish to use it.
First Bankcard provides your FICO score, but it’s not FICO Score 8. They share your FICO Bankcard Score 9, which assesses creditworthiness for credit cards specifically.
They release the score for free to everyone (not just members) and update it every month. You can get a unique insight into how likely you are to qualify for a credit card, though it’s unclear which of the three bureaus they use.
Does Checking My Credit Score or Report Hurt My Credit Score?
Checking your own credit score or pulling your credit report will never hurt your score. I’ll repeat that for the people in the back: never!
There are two types of credit score checks: hard and soft.
Hard inquiries occur when you apply for a new credit account (like a credit card or auto loan) and a lender checks your credit score. They appear on your credit report and stay there for two years.
Too many hard inquiries at once might cost you a few points, but even they are nowhere near as impactful as your payment history or credit utilization. Don’t worry about them too much.
Soft inquiries are the ones you initiate when you pull your score from a website or credit card company like those I mentioned above. They don’t show up on your report, and they will never damage your credit score. Feel free to use them to your heart’s content!