Knowing your credit score is a crucial part of maintaining good financial health. It tells you whether you need to take steps to improve your credit so that you can qualify for the best credit card and loan offers.
FICO scores are arguably the most important of all credit scores, but they can be difficult to access. We’ll outline all the ways you can check your FICO credit score absolutely free of charge, and explain how free FICO scores compare to the other free credit scores you can get.
We'll also go over the benefits of getting your score for free and whether it's ever worth paying for credit monitoring services.
How to check your FICO score for free
You may be able to check your FICO score for free if you have a credit card or loan. This is because some credit card companies and loan providers offer their customers complimentary credit monitoring or free FICO scores on their monthly billing statements.
Banks that provide free FICO scores
Some banks only provide free FICO scores with certain credit cards. If you’re unsure whether you qualify, reach out to your credit card issuer and ask about how you can get your free FICO credit score.
Although some credit card companies (such as American Express, Capital One, and Chase) offer free credit scores to anyone, regardless of whether they’re accountholders, the free scores they provide are VantageScore 3.0 credit scores rather than true FICO scores. Your VantageScore isn't useless, but lenders are much more likely to use your FICO score in actual lending decisions.
Where to get your FICO score for free with no credit card
If you don’t have a credit card or loan with a company that offers free FICO scores, then there is one place you can check your FICO score free of charge: FreeCreditScore.com.
FreeCreditScore is a legit website hosted by Experian, one of the three main US credit reporting agencies. In addition to offering free credit scores through this website, Experian offers free FICO scores to anyone who signs up for one of the following free services they offer:
You can also check your FICO score by signing up for a free trial for one of their paid products, such as IdentityWorksSM. However, for this to be truly free, you’ll need to cancel your subscription before the 30-day trial period ends.
How to make sure you’re getting your true FICO score
Not all credit scores are FICO scores. In fact, most of the free credit scores that are available online aren’t real FICO scores. Instead, they’re VantageScore credit scores.
Unless you’re checking your credit score through Experian, if you haven’t paid or signed any credit contracts, the credit score you’re getting is probably from VantageScore. It’s worth checking the fine print to be sure.
While both credit scoring companies produce equally valid credit scores, there are some key differences between FICO and VantageScore that are worth bearing in mind.
FICO vs. VantageScore
Fair, Isaac, and Company (FICO) produced the first credit scores in the US. VantageScore was founded much later by the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian).
In addition to being the original credit score, research shows that FICO scores are used in more than 90% of lending decisions. This means that checking your VantageScore alone won’t give you a good idea of what lenders are seeing when they review your application for a new loan or credit card.
Although the two companies use similar algorithms to calculate your credit score, they use different weightings for evaluating the main factors that affect your credit score. This means that your VantageScore may be lower than your FICO score, or vice versa.
Industry-specific FICO scores
Some creditors offer free FICO scores, but these scores may be FICO industry-specific scores, such as FICO Auto Scores, FICO Mortgage Scores, or FICO Bankcard Scores. These scores are still FICO scores, but they’re tailored to predict certain types of risk.
This means that depending on your credit profile, you may have some FICO scores that are lower or higher than others. If you check your free FICO Bankcard Score with your credit card issuer, it may not be the same as your FICO Auto Score, which lenders may look at when you apply for an auto loan.
Free vs. paid FICO scores (and why paying may be worth it)
As mentioned, you have many different credit scores, and when you look up your free credit scores, they won't always be the same as the scores potential lenders will see when running a credit check on you. However, this isn’t just because of differences in the scoring model used.
Paying is the only way to get all 3 FICO scores
You actually have three standard FICO scores—one with each of the main credit bureaus. Most free credit scores are only free because of partnerships between companies. When you get a free FICO score, it’s probably only based on the information in one of your three credit reports.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that your three credit reports aren’t necessarily the same. Many creditors only report your account information to one or two credit bureaus, meaning that your free FICO credit score could be missing key information that would drastically impact your final score.
The only way to ensure that you’re getting an accurate FICO score that reflects all of the information shown in your credit reports is to pay for a tri-bureau credit score.
Free FICO scores aren’t as “free” as they seem
Free credit scores generally come with a catch. In many cases, the catch is that you’re getting your VantageScore rather than your true FICO score. In other cases, even when your FICO score is technically free, you’re paying in other ways.
Here are ways you may be paying indirectly for a free FICO score:
- Through a credit contract: To check your FICO score for free through a lender, you usually need to have an account with them. Creditors have other means of making money from their contracts with you, such as through credit card interest or annual fees.
- By sacrificing your data privacy: Although Experian offers free FICO credit scores, they come with a catch. You need to sign up for one of their services, which are designed to collect personal data from you.
Depending on your values and budget, it may be worth spending a little money for the assurance that you’re getting an accurate FICO score. Doing so will allow you to monitor your credit more closely and take the steps necessary to build and maintain a good FICO score.