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How to check your credit score

Checking your credit score helps you see where you stand before prospective lenders do. Luckily, there are multiple ways to access your credit score without paying a dime.
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Written by Sean Jackson, Contributing Writer on

Your credit score is the most vital aspect of your financial future because it influences your ability to finance large purchases. And it determines how much you'll pay for them in interest charges. Moreover, everyone wants to check your credit: prospective lenders, mortgage companies, apartment managers, employers, insurance agencies -- even possible spouses. 

Knowing your credit score helps you see what prospective lenders see. That way, you have a realistic idea of what kind of financing product you're eligible for and whether now is a wise time to finance more expensive items.

Option 1: Open a credit card that offers credit score monitoring

Many credit card companies now offer credit score reporting in their tool chest of offerings. Capital One's CreditWise allows you to keep abreast of your VantageScore assigned by TransUnion -- one of the three credit bureaus that keep reports on your financial behaviors. Discover also gives you access to check your FICO score for free.

Meanwhile, you're in luck if you're establishing or rebuilding your credit. You can get a secured credit card with many lenders offering these monitoring services, such as Capital One and Discover. How this works is you make a deposit that becomes your credit limit. And when you open one, you gain access to these monitoring tools.

Also: 5 ways to improve your credit score without a credit card

Other credit card companies offering similar perks include Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Citi, Wells Fargo, Barclay, and American Express. 

Option 2: Let your bank do the work for you

Some banks offer their customers access to their credit scores. For example, Chase has a program called Credit Journey. Once you sign up, you can receive your VantageScore for free. Another option is to check with your credit union. Some will offer you free credit score updating as part of their services. 

Option 3: Go with a credit monitoring program

Credit Karma is beneficial, as you receive free credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion, with updates occurring every seven days. Along with this being a free service, you'll obtain a dashboard of your credit scores, indicating behaviors aiding your score. And you'll also gain insights on what you can do better to improve your score. Since your scores derive directly from two credit bureaus, you can feel confident they provide a perspective on how prospective lenders see your situation.

Another option is Credit Sesame, which is also a free service to use. You'll receive your VantageScore from TransUnion with daily updates. They also provide transaction alerts, allowing you to determine the validity of the information entered onto your TransUnion credit report. And if that information is inaccurate, you can get on top of it to dispute it before it causes any more harm. Another convenient feature is credit offers and approval odds. 

You could also use a service like myFico. myFico grants you access to your Equifax credit score with monthly updates. Further, a paid subscription unlocks credit scores from all three bureaus and FICO score versions for mortgages and auto loans. Therefore, if you're in a position to buy a home or vehicle soon, the paid membership helps you learn where you stand before you apply to prospective lenders. 

How do I check my credit score?

You can use one of these services listed above to help you gain access to your credit score. If you have a credit card, you can sign up for their monitoring service by logging into your account and searching for account tools. Some lenders like Discover have your FICO score automatically on your statements.

Meanwhile, credit monitoring services often need your name, address, and last four digits of your Social Security number. Because you're entering your personal information, try to use a private connection when setting up and accessing your account. Public WiFi makes it easier for your information to become compromised

Who determines my credit score?

There are three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, who generate credit reports. 

Which factors influence my credit scores?

Your payment history, balances owed, the length of your credit history, new credit, and credit mix all influence your credit score. For credit mix, it means you might have an auto loan (installment) and several credit cards (revolving). Lenders like to see a mix of credit accounts, as it shows them you can manage different kinds of debt responsibly. 

What's the difference in credit scores?

The two most common credit scores lenders use are FICO and VantageScore; both use information from all three credit bureaus to calculate scores. However, there are several differences between them. With FICO, you'll need at least one credit account opened for six months before they create your score. With VantageScore, you'll receive a score after opening a credit line, with no minimum time needed to generate scores. 

Another difference resides in the criteria measured to determine the score. With FICO, your payment history is 35% responsible for your score, while 30% consists of the balances owed on your accounts. Comparatively, VantageScore places a higher weight on credit usage, balances, and how much available credit you have on your revolving lines. Say you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit; if your balance is $900, it'll drop your score since, you're using most of your credit line. 

Combining all factors, FICO assigns a score from a low of 300 to a high of 850. VantageScore uses the same scoring range as FICO. 

Why is my credit score different when I apply for a car loan?

When you apply for an auto loan, lenders examine your auto credit score. It's like your FICO score, but it places heavy emphasis on your previous auto loans or leases. If you made all of your payments in time, you might find your Auto Credit Score is higher than anticipated. Conversely, should you have experienced struggles paying auto loans in the past, it could mean a lower score when you apply this time. 

Does checking my credit score hurt my credit?

No, because you're not having a hard inquiry conducted. Monitoring services typically use a soft inquiry to access your credit scores. It means they receive the information they need, but there's no residue of it on your credit reports. 

Why should I check my credit scores regularly?

Checking your credit scores allows you to stay on top of your finances. If you notice a change, you can investigate it and not encounter a surprise should you need to apply for financing. Moreover, if there is fraud, it's a quick way to detect and act on it before the damage snowballs.


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