One of the new ways credit card issuers are hoping to lure new customers is by offering access to a free FICO credit score, which can cost up to $20 a pop. Already, Barclays, Discover, and First Bank National offer this perk to cardholders via the FICO Open Access Program.
Now, the head of the nation’s consumer watchdog agency is putting pressure on all credit card companies to supply credit scores to their customers free of charge.
“Credit reports and scores can determine the terms of people’s mortgages, whether they qualify for auto loans, or if they are eligible for different credit cards,” said Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Making consumers’ credit scores freely available on their monthly statement or online makes it easier for them to spot problems with their credit report.”
This is all well and good, but it’s something of a bizarre request. Sure, it would be nice for lenders to give everyone a free credit score — but why not get the goods straight from the horse’s mouth? In this case, we mean credit reporting agencies themselves.
“The CFPB's position doesn't seem to make much sense,” John Ulzheimer, credit expert at Credit Sesame, told Yahoo Finance. “On one hand, it would be great for consumers to have more access to their credit data. On the other hand, credit card issuers aren't the right parties to task with that endeavor. Credit card issuers are in the business of issuing credit cards, not educating consumers about their credit scores.”
A spokesperson for the CFPB declined to comment on the bureau’s plans, if any, to make a similar appeal to credit reporting agencies themselves.
But in the meantime, we do have a bit of good news: You can get a credit score estimate whenever you want — for free — from several websites already.
Credit Sesame, Credit.com, Quizzle and Credit Karma all offer free credit scores to people who sign up for their services. Here’s what you need to know:
Are they all the same?
Not exactly. Each of these sites are alike in that they update your score on a weekly or monthly basis, which can be a great way to track your progress if building up your score is on your to-do list.
Where they differ is in where they get your credit history. For example, Credit Sesame offers up the Experian National Risk Score, which is based on data collected by Experian only. Similarly, Credit.com bases its free score on Experian data, offering both a VantageScore 3.0 and Experian credit score. Quizzle leans on Equifax data. CreditKarma is a TransUnion fan, and offers two scores – your VantageScore credit score and your TransRisk credit score — based on Transunion data only. (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S.)
What that means for you
Unless you’re a brand loyalist, this shouldn’t concern you too much. As long as the credit bureaus have your history correct, your scores should be similar regardless of where you get them. And those scores will be similar to your FICO score as well. The key is not to get caught up in matching your credit scores across all platforms down to the decimal point.
Instead, look at where your score falls in the credit risk range. Each site has its own version of a chart that tells you whether your credit score makes you a poor, good, or excellent candidate for credit. No matter which site you use, your score should land you close to the same range in each.
Our advice: Check your scores on all four sites (Why not? They're free!). If any of your scores are way off from the others, it could be a clue that there's an error on one of your credit reports. If so, you should flag the error on your credit report by visiting the corresponding credit reporting bureau websites directly. Don’t forget, you can get a free report from all three bureaus once a year via annualcreditreport.com.