The Fair Credit Reporting Act gave consumers access to free annual credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies through a centralized source, AnnualCreditReport.com, in 2003. A free credit score has never been a right.
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Numerous sites promise "free" scores, but in reality they sign people up for a fee-based credit monitoring product. The score costs nothing only if the consumer cancels the order before the end of the trial period.
Several sites will give you a free credit score or score estimate, such as the FICO Score Estimator at Bankrate.com. Score estimators, which provide a score range, may rely on answers to questions about your credit situation or come from credit report information, while actual scores are computed from credit report data.
None of the free scores and estimates available deliver actual FICO scores, the most commonly used score by lenders. The free scores and estimates do, however, give you an idea of where your credit rating stands.
"At the end of the day, an 'excellent' on one model is 97 percent of the time going to be an 'excellent' on another model," says Ken Lin, CEO of San Francisco-based Credit Karma, a site that provides free TransRisk scores from TransUnion.
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Here's a look at several sites that offer free credit scores or estimates:
What you get: Score estimates across five different scoring models, including FICO and VantageScore, based on your credit report with TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The "Credit Report Card" analyzes your performance in the five major factors that make up scores, such as payment history and debt usage. You get both an explanation for each category and a letter grade, A through F. Subscribers can obtain a new report card every 30 days.
You don't get a full credit report, though, or exact scores. For a free and complete credit report, head to AnnualCreditReport.com.
What you get: A real score from TransUnion, based on your credit report with that credit reporting agency. It is not a FICO score, but a TransRisk score from TransUnion. TransRisk scores run from 100 to 900.
Subscribers also get access to a credit report card, which assigns a letter grade to the consumer's performance in five categories, such as percent of on-time payments. It also shows you how your performance compares with that of other Credit Karma members. Consumers also get access to a credit score simulator, which lets you gauge the impact to your score if certain changes hit your credit report, such as a 30-day delinquency. CEO Ken Lin says that to come up with the score change, the new information is run through the TransRisk scoring model.
Consumers don't get a full TransUnion credit report.
What you get: The Credit Score Card tells you your credit score range, a few reasons your credit rating isn't higher and where it falls on a scale from low to high. The score freebie is actually your Equifax Risk Score, which goes from 280 to 850. The ERS score is used by "some" credit grantors, according to Equifax.
The score is based on your Equifax credit report, but the report doesn't come with the score estimate.
FICO Score Estimator
What you get: The FICO score estimator at Bankrate.com provides a FICO score range, sans credit report. The tool asks 10 questions about your credit situation to come up with a score range, and doesn't require any identifying information.
What you get: Quizzle gives you a credit score from CE Analytics, called a CE Score, and a credit report from Experian, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies. Scores range from 350 to 850. Along with a credit rating, the site provides several reasons your score isn't higher.
You can order a free report and score every six months, or pay $7 for each additional peek. Quizzle lets you dispute inaccuracies on your report directly with Experian.
For a $25 monthly fee, or $75 for four months, you can get personalized, step-by-step instructions on how to improve your score.
The site features other free tools, such as a budget and emergency fund tracker. On the downside, credit card issuers currently do not use the CE Score when making decisions about extending credit.
Why to Get Your Score
When you're in the market for a loan or credit card, it pays to know your credit score. Good credit scores can help you secure more favorable interest rates and lower fees. A bad score can raise the cost of borrowing or even cause the lender to reject your application.
You won't know where you stand until you check. Then you can take steps to improve your credit rating. Use these tools to help you get started.