Are you thinking about making a big-ticket purchase like a car or a house? Maybe you’re considering applying for a credit card facility?
When we want to obtain credit from a lender, they look at our credit score to determine our level of creditworthiness. Your credit score is a vital component of determining your risk profile for lenders.
If you have a weak credit score, then the lender may choose to deny your request for credit. If they do decide to take a chance on you, then you can expect the credit facility to come with a sky-high interest rate that ensures you don’t borrow more than you can afford.
Do you know your credit score?
Many people have no idea how to look up their FICO or VantageScore rating, and they have no clue of how the credit market views their financial position. Before you apply for credit, use one of these five methods to check your credit score for free.
Why Your Credit Score Matters
- 1 Why Your Credit Score Matters
- 2 Credit Scores Explained
- 3 The Five Best Methods to Check Your Credit Score for Free
- 4 Using the Bureaus to Check Your Score – Experian
- 5 Using the Bureaus to Check Your Score – TransUnion
- 6 Using the Bureaus to Check Your Score – Equifax
- 7 Check Your Credit Score with External Providers – Credit Karma
- 8 Check Your Credit Score with External Providers – Mint
- 9 The Final Thought – A Warning for Checking Your Credit Score with External Providers
Before we get started showing you how to check your credit score for free, you may be asking why you would want to bother with this exercise in the first place? Your credit score defines your creditworthiness to lenders.
When you apply for credit with a lender, they don’t just look at your bank account and take your word for it that you will repay your debts.
Your credit score gives them an impartial and unbiased view of your current financial status.
If you have a low credit score, then the lender views you as a high-risk applicant, and they are less likely to lend you money.
This strategy not only protects them against default, but it also protects you from taking on debt you can’t afford to repay.
Being stuck in a financial situation of perpetual debt takes a significant toll on your mental health, as well as your finances.
Considering there is over $4-trillion worth of outstanding consumer debt in the United States, lenders need to assure markets that consumers will pay this money back to creditors.
If every consumer suddenly decided to default on their debt, it would crash the U.S. economy, and cause a global debt crisis, as the contagion spreads to other developed and emerging markets.
Credit Scores Explained
There are three primary credit bureaus in the United States, Equifax, Equestrian, and TransUnion. These bureaus collect data from credit reporting agencies to compile a credit score on every adult American.
These bureaus use five criteria to determine your credit score, including how much debt you have, how you use your credit, your credit mix, such as mortgages, personal loans, and credit cards, as well as your payment history.
The bureau then allocates you a FICO score between 300 and 850, depending on your credit history.
VantageScore is a credit rating system similar to FICO. However, it does not rely on lengthy credit history. This factor makes it a popular credit rating system for lenders that assess young adults that do not have many years of credit history behind them.
Most lenders rely on your FICO score when assessing an application for credit. If your FICO score is less than 580, then you’ll have a tough time trying to source any source of credit from any lender. Banks and financial institutions consider 680 as the tipping point between good and average credit scores.
According to data from FICO, the average credit score in America is 704, so you’ll need a score over 700 if you want to secure favorable terms on any credit facility.
Those Americans with scores over the 800 mark are considered the lowest risk clients for lenders, and they are willing to provide these individuals with any credit facility they like, with favorable terms.
It’s important to note that every time a lender checks your credit report to assess your creditworthiness, they are creating a “hard inquiry” on your credit profile. This hard inquiry costs you points on your credit score.
Therefore, avoid applying for any credit facilities where there is a risk you will not get approval. Also, avoid applying for multiple lines of credit at the same time, as this may significantly affect your credit score.
The Five Best Methods to Check Your Credit Score for Free
By now, you should have a decent understanding of why your credit score matters. Here are five methods you can use to check your credit score for free, without causing a hard inquiry on your credit report.
Using the Bureaus to Check Your Score – Experian
All three of the credit bureaus allow you to check your credit report once a year, free of charge. To access your report and credit score, log onto the freecreditscore.com website. Enter your details as requested, and the site pulls up your credit report.
The report allows you to view your credit score, as well as any collection notices and judgments against your name. Unfortunately, you only get one opportunity to do this check each year, and if you want further checks, you’ll need to pay for them.
Fortunately, some workarounds let you access your Experian credit score with other financial service providers.
If you have a primary credit card facility with American Express, then you can check your credit score on your monthly statement. However, if you’re only an authorized user, and you don’t have enough activity on your account to generate a monthly report, then you won’t be able to access this feature.
Those people that bank with Chase Slate will have access to their credit score through the Slate Credit Dashboard. The company recently merged into the Chase Credit Journey program, and you can log onto your account on their website to view your Experian credit score.
Many Americans have a Discover card, but few know that you can check your credit score using their platform. Discover lets its customers check their credit score once every 30-days for free, even if you have already used your free check on the Experian site.
Members of USAA can access their VantageScore 3.0 credit score through the Experian “CreditCheck” service, and the platform updates your score at the end of every month for accuracy.
Customers of Wells Fargo allows primary account holders enrolled in the Wells Fargo Online banking program, the opportunity to check their Experian FICO score. The planning and tools section of your online profile will give you the option to check your score, which updates once a month, typically on the 5th.
Using the Bureaus to Check Your Score – TransUnion
TransUnion also offers American consumers the opportunity to check their credit score once a year for free.
All you need to do to access your score, and credit report, is visit their website and register through a simple process that takes less than a minute.
As with Experian, there are workarounds that you can use with other financial institutions to check your credit score monthly.
American Express customers can view their VantageScore without any charge, once a week. Log onto the “mycreditguide” segment of their website and get on-demand access to your score, for no cost.
Bank of America provides its clients that have credit card facilities with access to their FICO score. Log into your BOA account and select the “View your FICO score” button for instant access. BOA updates every month, assuring you that you are viewing your latest FICO score.
If you bank with Barclays and have a credit card facility, then it’s as easy as BOA to check your score. Log on to your online banking suite and click the button that says, “View my FICO score.” Barclays also update their information once a month for accuracy.
Capital One allows you to view your VantageScore through their CreditWise channel. Log onto CreditWise using your account details for an up-to-date score.
Chase Credit Journey permits its clients to access their VantageScore once a week through the portal. Log onto your online dashboard, scroll to the bottom left-hand corner, and select the “Your credit score” option.
U.S. Bank allows cardholders to see their TransUnion credit score through the CreditView dashboard.
Using the Bureaus to Check Your Score – Equifax
While Equifax offers you one free credit report annually, it’s challenging to find any other form of workaround to access your score from this bureau. The only workaround we found valid, was through Citibank.
Select Citi cardholders can access their FICO score through the website. It’s important to note that not all credit card facilities with Citi have this option, and in our research, we found that it was only the premium account holders that had access to this feature.
Citi also states there is a 10-day delay between the scores posted on their platform and those held with Equifax. Citi claims this delay is to ensure the accuracy of information when checking your score, which makes little sense to us.
However, this may not be such a bad thing. Recently, Equifax fell victim to a hack by cybercriminals, exposing the data of over 150-million Americans personal information. The bureau is expected to pay up to $700-million in damages, as a result of the hack in July 2019.
Check Your Credit Score with External Providers – Credit Karma
With over 40-million registered users, Credit Karma is the largest private website offering you access to your credit score. Credit Karma allows you to check both your FICO and VantageScore, in an easy-to-view credit report that’s reasonably accurate.
All you need to access your free credit report is leave your details on the site – and we’ve already discussed the risk in completing this action. However, if you are in a bind, then it’s a viable means to check your credit score.
Check Your Credit Score with External Providers – Mint
Mint is a popular budgeting app available online. Mint recently announced the launch of its latest addition to its suite of services – a free credit reporting system.
Mint gives you a comprehensive report, including information on your card usage, credit age, payments history, hard credit inquiries, and collections or judgments in your name.
The site goes the extra mile, offering your financial advice to improve your score, as well as a breakdown of your score.
When accessing your score through Mint, it counts as a “soft inquiry,” and you don’t have to worry about it affecting your current credit score.
To get a copy of your credit score for free, log into your Mint account and visit the accounts section of your profile.
Under the financials tab, click the prompt to “Set Up Free Mint Credit Score.” Complete a few quick questions, and Mint will have your credit score ready in a few seconds.
Read: Our Review of Mint
The Final Thought – A Warning for Checking Your Credit Score with External Providers
The workarounds mentioned above should be more than adequate for any consumer that wants to check on their credit score. However, if you don’t have accounts with any of the merchants listed above, and you’ve already used your one-time free credit check with the bureaus, then there is another solution.
External companies offer you the opportunity to check your credit score for free. To check your score, you’ll need to log onto the suite and enter your personal information to obtain access to your score.
This stage is where we have a problem using these methods. We’ve already discussed how Experian fell victim to a cyber-attack, where hackers made off with the personal information of millions of Americans.
When you stop to consider the fact that Equifax is a huge company, with plenty of protection on its networks, leaving your personal information with an external site, might be a lot riskier.
There is no way that small sites have better cybersecurity than a credit bureau, and placing your personal information on the site exposes you to the risk of hackers stealing your information. You also have no idea what the companies will do with your information.
While their policy says that they don’t share your details with anyone, there is a chance they could be selling it to other institutions for a fee. After all, why would they offer you a free service in the first place?
The answer is in the advertising. Similar to Facebook, external sites make money by displaying ads to you while you view your report.
Therefore, our final two workarounds are not something that we recommend, but if you urgently need to check your score, then they may be worth the risk.