By Allan Halcrow | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
7 Min Read | January 31, 2020 in Credit
You can check your credit score for free from many sources.
You’ll likely find differences in your credit score depending on which source you use, due to the different ways credit scores are calculated.
To get the most accurate picture, check multiple sources often because credit scores change continuously.
When it comes to consumer goods like furniture or jewelry, you often only “get what you pay for.” But when it comes to getting your credit score, you’ll be happy to know that valuable item can be yours free. In fact, you can now check your credit score for free from many sources.
Knowing your credit score can help you anticipate which loans or credit cards may be available to you (and for what terms) and even whether you may have trouble renting an apartment or getting a job.
But before exploring the ways you can check your credit score for free, it’s important to know that you do not have just one credit score! I was surprised to learn that fact while researching this article. Your credit scores will be different depending on the scoring model, the credit report used, and the exact time you request the score (because the information in your credit reports is continuously updated as your creditors regularly update it). In a 12-hour period, my own free credit score checks came up with three different scores—and the highest and lowest differed by 46 points!
The easiest place to check your credit score may be your bank, credit union, or credit card provider. Many of these institutions provide free credit scores as a customer service perk, though they may have some limitations. For example, I can check my score—but only once each month—just by looking at one of my credit card statements or using my credit union’s app.
However, your experience may differ. Some banks offer credit scores only to customers who have credit card accounts with the bank. Others may not provide credit scores at all, or may have specific requirements such as signing up for online banking. Still others may let you check your credit score for free, but only when you specifically request it.
You can also check your credit score for free using various websites and apps, including some that provide credit-related services or personal finance services to consumers. Other companies provide your credit score only if you pay for a subscription to their services, which may include credit monitoring, fraud protection, credit matching, or forecasting tools.1
Creating a profile or account will require you to share some personal information, including at least the last four digits of your Social Security number. Be aware that experts say some of these sites are not held to the same data-protection standards as banks.2
To help explain the process to you, I decided to get free credit scores at two online sites: Credit Karma, which made its reputation based on offering free credit scores, and American Express, because I’m a card member.
The first thing I saw when I hit Credit Karma’s home page was a big green button at the top labeled “See my scores” under a banner headline proclaiming “Your credit scores should be free. And now they are.” Click!
That click brought me to a standard account-creation process, which led me to the form that established my identity so Credit Karma could grab my credit report and calculate my score. It asked for full name, address, date of birth and the last four digits of my Social Security number. Along the way were standard disclaimers, including one related to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)—the law specifying your right to get a copy of your credit report and credit score for free.
My credit is frozen, so I had to unfreeze my credit. To learn more about unfreezing your credit once frozen, see “How to Unfreeze Credit for Free.”
Then I hit a glitch. In the next step, you answer multiple-choice questions based on the data in your credit report to prove you’re really you. But my memory didn’t match the data. Credit Karma had a solution, though: they gave me a URL to use on my mobile phone, where a browser-based applet stepped me through photographing the front and back of my driver’s license. I found it quick and easy.
Once finished with the photo, both the web page on my desktop and the one on my phone simultaneously reacted, bringing me to a page that revealed two scores—one based on TransUnion’s credit report and the other based on Equifax’s. It also provided information from my credit report. In reviewing that, I discovered why I had answered incorrectly earlier—the “official” name of the creditor for my auto lease was different from the brand I recognized.
Both my free credit scores were calculated using the VantageScore 3.0 scoring model, considered an up-and-coming challenger to Fair Isaac Corp.’s FICO Score 8, the reigning champion of credit scoring models. They differed by five points, and both were labeled “Excellent.”
The entire process took about 30 minutes, including unfreezing my credit and the extra time spent because of my own error.
American Express offers two ways to check your credit scores for free:
I started with MyCredit Guide. The process was almost identical to what I stepped through at Credit Karma, except they asked whether I lived at my current address more than six months and they wanted my full Social Security number instead of the last four digits. This time, I answered the data questions correctly. No surprise: My free credit score, being requested only a few hours apart and based on the same TransUnion report and VantageScore model, was identical to the TransUnion-based score Credit Karma showed me.
The credit report information at MyCredit Guide was presented in a simple, high-level way, and clicking on one of these high-level summaries took you to a detail page with comprehensive information. But the thing I found really cool was at the bottom of the page: a credit score simulator. You fill in a form supposing different possibilities—both positive and negative—such as opening a new credit card account, paying off balances, or falling behind on payments. Then press the “simulate” button to reveal your “simulated score” should those events actually happen. I played with that for awhile!
Then I logged into my American Express customer account where, under “Account Services,” I chose “View FICO Score.” I got an immediate boost seeing that my FICO Score 8 using Experian data was 46 points higher than my TransUnion/VantageScore number.
Both American Express and Credit Karma offered information about disputing errors on your credit reports, with links to facilitate that purpose.
Because of all the variables—multiple scoring models, multiple bureaus, and constantly changing data—experts recommend that if you want a more accurate sense of your credit profile you’ll want to check your free credit score from multiple sources, often. Some free credit score providers will limit that frequency, most usually to monthly but sometimes weekly.
Carefully monitoring your credit score will also make it easier to spot sudden changes and anomalies. Scores are only as good as the data that feeds them, so if your score doesn’t seem right it may be because of reporting errors or fraudulent activity. To investigate what’s happening, you can seek out your credit report for free. If it contains information that seems inaccurate, you can dispute it with the credit bureau and/or the creditor.
It’s easy to check your credit score for free. However, you may find that different sources provide different credit scores, depending on the scoring model and the credit bureau that provided the information. To get the most accurate picture, you may want to check multiple sources and frequently monitor your credit score.
Mike Azzara contributed to this article.