Free credit scores are an extremely valuable resource. Your score determines whether or not you can get a loan and how favorable the terms will be, but you can't just look up your score anytime you want (unless you're willing to pay for that privilege).
Like legends about the city of El Dorado, promises of free credit scores rarely pan out. You'll quickly find that companies advertising free scores intend to charge you sooner or later. But there are a few ways to get truly free scores. Let's dig into your options below.
Types of Free Credit Scores
Not all scores are valuable. Before taking advantage of an offer for a free credit score, make sure you know what you’re getting. The most important score these days is the FICO score - it is the one most lenders use for the most important loans (such as mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards). For more details, see below:
Free Credit Scores From Lenders
Next time you borrow, ask for a freebie. Any time you apply for a loan, your lender most likely gets a FICO score as part of the lending decision. Ask them to tell you your score - they may not know that you’re curious, and they're generally happy to share that information with you. In addition to traditional lenders, peer to peer lenders often provide a free credit score (or some indication of where your score is) if you sign up for their services.
This will only get you a free credit score when you apply for a loan, but you may want to get the scoop more often.
Some banks allow you to view your credit score for free if you keep a credit card account open with them. They regularly review your credit (to see if they still want to keep your account open with the same credit limit), and they can pass the information on to you. This service is quite rare - but FICO is trying to increase the number of banks that offer this information to account holders.
Promotional Free Credit Scores
The web is full of sites promising free credit scores. You often sign up for a trial offer, get free credit scores, and then have to pay a subscription fee. However, you can cancel trial offers and skip the payments.
While this method can get you you a free credit score from time to time, you have to jump through a lot of hoops to do all the trial offers (and you have to remember to cancel your subscription to avoid paying). In addition, you’re submitting sensitive personal details to different websites, so the risk of identity theft increases. Finally, your name and contact information end up in more and more marketing databases and you have to pay the price for years to come.
I wouldn't consider these truly free credit scores, but they'll do in a pinch.
Free Credit Scores From Alternative Scorers
The FICO credit score is really the most important score for major loans. However, you can get alternative custom-made scores from different organizations. Credit bureaus and personal finance websites that specialize in credit issues offer these scores, sometimes for free. They're based on some of the same information used in your FICO score, and they evaluate your credit using a similar philosophy.
These scores do not use the same FICO algorithm that your lender uses (sometimes they're called "FAKO" scores), but they can give you some idea of how what lenders think of your credit. Beware that these scores seem to be a bit higher than your FICO score - perhaps nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news.
How do You Get Free Credit Scores?
You’ll find a few ideas above, but there are undoubtedly more ways to get free credit scores. If you have found a way that works for you, please share it with us.