The Definitive Guide (2020)
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Credit Score Sources
Most places want to collect your personal information to give you a free credit score.
But why do that if you already have a credit card that will give you the score for free?
Below are a few Credit Card Companies that give you a free credit score once a month.
If you already have a credit card, there's a good chance you can get a free credit score by logging in to your card's member site and checking the sidebar and main menu drop downs.
You'll find that in many cases, when you log in, your card does offer a free score.
To the right, here's the inside of Chris' account (our co-founder) with First National Bank of Omaha. The offer is right in the sidebar.
Most credit cards offer:
In other words, why go submit your personal information to a new financial institution when a card you already do business will give your score anyway?!
If you don't already have a credit card, here are few cards who offer free scores as a membership benefit.
Today more than *180 million consumer accounts have free monthly access to credit scores.
Everyone knows who American Express is, but you probably didn't know they offer two completely different options when it comes to your free credit score.
If you have found yourself on the above landing page, then you are signing up for their new free credit score platform.
This isn't only for card members, it is actually open for everyone to sign up for and just like with other sites, you will have to pay with an email address and personal information.
But don't be fooled, as you can see this product does not offer you the FICO score; it actually is the Vantage Score from Transunion.
You are probably better off going through one of the third party vendors than going with American Express for this specific offer.
It looks like the only people who will be able to get their FICO score form American Express will be actual card members.
This means that if you want to see the true value of a free credit score from AMEX you are going to need to apply for one of their cards.
If you don't have an AMEX card just yet, don't worry, there are tons of other options to get a free Fico credit score including the ways we discuss below.
In order to obtain your FICO score with Citi you must be a card member because their primary focus is on their members.
There is also a possibility that the credit card you apply for won't have the free FICO benefit, so if you are looking to get a Citi card soon, you should probably make sure it offers that extra benefit.
Based on the above FAQ's you are able to see that you will be getting your FICO Bankcard Score 8 from Equifax.
You might not be aware but there are about 15 to 20 different FICO scores, different scores are used for different things.
You have one for Mortgages, Auto Loans, Insurance, and so on. Different score models will show different results.
If you don't have any credit cards, then a free credit score from discover is probably going to be one of the best options.
Unlike the other companies, they will give you a Free Fico Score regardless if you are a member or not.
You of course will still need to give up some personal information, but unlike other sites you will actually get the FICO score and not a FAKO score.
You also will have access to credit alerts which is a new feature they are offering with their free credit score.
This is a neat benefit and some places charge additional fees where Discover gives it to you for free.
Now, I want to be clear... these aren't the only 3 credit card companies offering free credit scores.
In my honest opinion, I would check out the Discover option before any other credit card offer because you don't have to be a member and you get an actual FICO score for free.
One of the most overlooked places you can get a free credit score from is your Id Theft Protection company.
Along with protecting your identity, they also come with some solid credit benefits.
Check out how this process works below.
While Identity theft is a paid service, just like a bank account or a credit card, if you already have it, or plan on purchasing it, you need to get everything out of it.
Most people have this type of coverage and are unaware that it comes with a ton of additional benefits.
If you don't have it, you might consider buying it simply for the free credit scores.
I want to give you an example of this little known hidden gem by the name of Eliminate ID Theft.
Full Disclosure: Credit Knocks isn't affiliated with this company; it is a company I personally use.
As you can see from the above image, it comes with an assortment of features such as:
Now, what you don't see is that not only does it come with the list above, but it also comes with a free credit report and free credit score from all three major credit reporting agencies.
Yes, you read that right:
You get access to all of the scores, the reports, and the monitoring.
No more wondering if someone is trying to steal your identity because you have insurance and monitoring attached.
You are going to get a report and score from Equifax, Transunion & Experian, all at the same time.
Whenever there is an update on your credit report you are sent an email alert letting you know about the changes, and you don't have to take my word for it.
Believe it or not, you can also add your spouse to the plan for a small additional fee, I think the rates might have changed but my husband and I pay about $17.00 per month for everything.
I am not saying that Eliminate ID Theft is the only company out here offering this option; however, they are one of the least known and most affordable.
If you have been considering getting some identity theft protection coverage then you should be looking to see what additional benefits the company offers such as free credit reports, free credit monitoring or free credit scores.
Just like with Credit Cards, looking into your bank for your free credit score is a smart idea.
You get to avoid giving out any personal information and still get your credit score for free each month.
Check out a few banks that offer this benefit.
USAA is by far one of the most well known banks in the U.S. and it's known for a multitude of great reasons.
This bank is all about supporting the troops and vets and also having some great rates from insurance all the way to loans.
And guess what?
They offer free credit scores to their members that have a checking or savings account as well :
The only downside to USAA is that everyone doesn't qualify to bank with them, but if you do, below are some of the free credit score benefits:
With this plan you get to see your updated credit score every month as well as an Experian credit report every year detailing everything about your accounts.
You get monitoring of your Experian credit report and alerts to specific changes, a score simulator tool and access to a graph that tracks your score each month.
Finally, if you experience Identity theft, you will get step-by-step support from a U.S. based fraud resolution agent to investigate the theft and help restore your identity.
If you are a member of USAA and aren't taking advantage of this I say stop everything you are doing and get enrolled today... It's Free!
Ok, I know, I know...
Wells Fargo has been run through the mud in the news these last few years for tons of scandals; however, it is an institution and it is working towards change.
I don't know if offering a free FICO score is their way of trying to make up for the past, but it is an awesome benefit if you bank with them.
Just like with USAA, you don't have to own a credit card to get access to this score.
You just need to be a member of the bank and join their Wells Fargo Online system.
Below is a general idea of what is offered to eligible customers.
Wells Fargo is also ahead of the game in regards to which FICO score they offer.
The newest version of the FICO score is the Score 9 and that is the one Wells Fargo Is using.
The reason this matters is because not all lenders will be using the FICO Score 9 Model to view your credit, they might be on Score 8 and that means your scores could be 2 completely different numbers.
Eventually more people will be on Score 9 but for now Score 8 is getting the most usage.
Once you are logged in there are two ways to access your free credit score:
If you are a member of Wells Fargo either new or old, this benefit should not be passed up, if you have accounts with Wells Fargo & USAA you already have the ability to check your credit score and report for free 3 times per month.
While First National Bank Of Omaha is the largest privately held bank in the United States with over $17 Billion in assets; like me, you probably have never heard of them.
I wanted you to know that it isn't only the big banks that are offering a free credit score, you can get scores from much smaller institutions.
If you become a First National Bank Of Omaha member, you get access to your FICO Score 8.
As we discussed above, this is the score that is currently being used by most lenders and will probably match the same score a lender pulls.
As you see, the process to get your score is super easy, you can either log into your online account or access from the mobile app.
With each of these banks you get access to your actual FICO Score and you don't have to pay for it.
You don't have to sign up for a credit card or any type of loan products, all you have to do is become a member.
While they only update your information once per month, if you are tracking your credit with a monitoring service you could always look forward to your monthly score update.
Unless you have been under a rock or off the grid (hiding from aliens), then you know you can get a score from third party sites.
But here's the thing:
While getting your score may be free, you still have to sign up for an account and give your personal information.
Third party vendors offer free credit scores but not without caveats.
First, their scores are almost always based on the Vantage Score model rather than the FICO scoring model (the one actually used by 90% of lenders.) Second, most of them require your personal information including:
If you don't want a company having this information, or if you prefer getting your actual FICO score (that's our suggestion) we suggest getting your score from a credit card company or bank you're already doing business with, as we explained in the chapters above.
If giving up your personal info is not troublesome to you, and you're ok with using the inferior Vantage Score method as a "guide" to help improve your credit, there are some great benefits to using these third party credit score companies. Here are the 3 most popular.
Third party vendors have come out of the box swinging with offering up free credit scores and reports.
One of the first I can remember was Credit Karma. I thought it was amazing that a place would give you a free credit score.
Now that I know how it all works, there are some things to consider.
First and foremost:
To get that free credit score and report, you have to give up something in return and that is going to be your personal information.
As you see below, Credit Karma has 3 steps before you can see your credit score for free.
However, you seriously don't have to pay with anything but your email address and personal info.
While this is a free credit score, and it is super easy to access, Credit Karma isn't doing this all for for free.
Once you get your report and score, they recommend credit cards and loans based on your current credit profile.
Once you move forward based on that recommendation they get paid by any bank or lender you potentially do sign up with based on Credit Karma's recommendation.
This model is the same for all of the third party vendors.
Their goal is to collect you into their system by giving you free access to a credit report and score with the hopes of you using one of their recommended services.
They are paying the credit reporting agency sometimes up to 10 cents per person that pulls your credit report.
While it's Free to you, someone is still paying for it.
Nerd Wallet is the most recent entrant into this space of trading emails and personal info for access to your free credit score.
Unlike Credit Karma and Credit Sesame they didn't start out with this feature. They primarily did Reviews and "Best Of" posts and have grown into this model.
Not only can you look at your credit score online, you also have access to the NerdWallet mobile app.
It allows you to see all of the factors that are making up your current credit score by color coding each section.
If you have a ton of red on your report, your score will probably be low, always go for the green.
The only true downside is that NerdWallet gives you the VantageScore 3.0 through Transunion and not the FICO score.
This matters because no one is really using the Vantage Score to make lending decisions.
So while you might have a 650 Vantage Score, your FICO score could be a 500 and that is what lenders will base their approvals on.
Until lenders start taking those scoring models seriously they will probably still be known as FAKO scores.
A third but not final option from these third party vendors is going to be Credit Sesame.
Like the other companies, there is no credit card required and of course, you can't hurt your score when you personally check your credit.
With the cost of your email address and personal information, you are minutes away from seeing your score.
Credit Sesame also boasts more features like the ones below.
Like the other two companies, they will still be recommending loans, credit cards and bank accounts based on your current credit profile.
All of these places have communities and do some form of credit monitoring as well.
Just like the others, Credit Sesame is getting your credit information from TransUnion in the form of the Vantage Score.
Now, it doesn't mean you can't get a gauge of where your credit is headed, but it does mean you need to probably check your actual FICO score before you apply for anything with a lender.
You can even ask the lender if they check the VantageScore or FICO score.
Whatever you do, if you are using any of these third party vendors, never apply for any type of loan or credit based on the score that they give you(Unless you confirm they will use the Vantage Scoring System).
If you are declined for credit you will usually get a letter telling you in general terms, why you were declined.
While this method is probably the least talked about, it can give you a more realistic answer to where you stand with your credit.
The letter usually tells you a few things.
It is essential to know which credit reporting agency has pulled your credit.
This is because sometimes one of your reports can be stronger than the others.
You will usually see this happen when a creditor doesn't report your account to all of the credit reporting agencies.
If your Transunion report has a better profile than your Equifax report then it is best to apply for companies that only pull Transuion until your score is better.
As you can see above this report was pulled from Experian, and you are given their address, phone number and web address to contact them.
And while the letter says the decision was "based in whole or in part" I can assure you that your credit report is the only factor in making the decision.
Figuring out your FICO score is the main reason for going forward with this method.
You might not know this, but 90% of lenders use your FICO score to decide if they will issue you credit or not.
It is important to understand that any score that you look at from the Vantage Score or other lesser known score models, are going to be considered a FAKO score.
Since most creditors don't use those scores to determine your eligibility for credit, they are almost vanity metrics.
Depending on where you applied for credit, you might receive your decline letter either online or in the mail.
You will usually find your FICO score information in the Credit Score Disclosure section like in the image shown below:
You will be able to see the actual FICO score that was used when they initially pulled your credit.
Now, it might be odd seeing that someone was declined for credit with a 727 credit score, but it is important to keep in mind that your score is only a part of the equation.
If you have been declined for credit, it isn't only your credit score that you have to consider but your actual credit report.
Your credit score alone isn't enough to get you approved for a loan or credit, it is also going to depend on what is on your physical report.
Do you have collections or charge offs? Do you have any late payments?
As you see, based on the above image the person looking to borrow credit has a few things.
First, their credit utilization is too high based on their available credit is too low.
They also don't have enough credit history so they could have a thin credit file and they also have a short average age of accounts.
In a situation like this, they might want to start out with a fingerhut merchandise account which can be much easier to get approved for.
Applying for a credit card knowing that you will be declined might sound wacky, but the truth is that the information you gain from getting a decline is often better than getting an approval.
Here at Credit Knocks, we are strong advocates of checking your credit constantly.
I even believe in checking my credit daily and I think more people should check theirs daily as well.
Did you know that some companies allow you to get a daily credit report and score?
I am sure you are wondering...
What does getting a free credit score have to do with checking my credit every day?
Well, here's the thing:
The biggest draw back to most of the places you can get your free credit score from is that you can only check them once a week or once a month.
If you want a free credit score, it is probably because you are doing something with it.
When you are actively trying to establish or rebuild your credit you want to know what's happening at all times and having a product that allows you to check your report and score daily is essential.
This isn't what you think... really!
My Privacy Matters is the name of one of the few companies that gives you the ability to get a fresh credit report and score each day.
Some people might think that obtaining your credit report and score on a daily basis is overkill.
However, I disagree, because sometimes you are waiting for a credit card that you paid off to report so that you can see how it affected your score.
You might be waiting to apply for a new home or car and need to make sure a collection you had "Paid For Deleted" has actually been removed from your credit.
Once you have logged into your account you are able to access a few things such as:
Clicking on the reports button takes you to the below section of the site to start viewing your report and score:
Once you are on this screen you get to decide if you will be logging in or if you are a returning spouse and want to log in.
Now, here's the thing:
There is a small catch with this process in that you have to wait exactly 24 hours before you pull your new report.
If you pulled it yesterday at 1:30pm, you have to pull it today no earlier than 1:31pm or you will get an error and have to wait an entire day before you can do another update.
Checking your credit daily is a smart move and can teach you the reporting patterns of your creditors and how the credit reporting agencies report your information.
I am sure there are other places that offer this. A few years back it was offered by both American Express and USAA, but they have since discontinued their daily pull feature.
Now it's your turn to take action.
You know the exact steps it will take to get yourself a free credit score so answer this:
What’s the #1 tip from this post that you want to try first?
Maybe you already have access to a free credit score and you didn't know it. Or maybe you have a question about something you read.
Either way, let us know by leaving a comment below right now.
By Sa El
Sa El is a Co-Founder of Credit Knocks where he writes about credit education. He is also a Licensed Insurance Agent with over 11 years of experience and a licensed Real Estate Agent.