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Here's What You Should Know About Free Credit Scores

Mandi Woodruff

Experian / Facebook

Forget for a minute how complicated credit scores themselves are. People are sometimes lucky if they even know where to find them.

The thing is, your credit score is not part of your traditional credit report. For some reason, the geniuses of credit reporting decided it'd be a good idea to offer the physical report for free once a year and dangle the actual score itself in front of us like a juicy carrot. 

If you want to find out your actual credit score you usually have to pay and endure a barrage of ads for all sorts of different credit monitoring products in the meantime. 

That all changed this year when several personal finance tools decided to change the game, offering credit scores to consumers for free. A few of note are Credit Sesame, Credit.com and Credit Karma, which all offer free credit scores to people who sign up for their services. 

So which site should you choose?

The biggest difference between the scores offered by these sites is which credit reporting agency data they are based on. Credit Sesame offers up the Experian National  Risk Score, which is based on data collected by Experian only. Similarily, Credit.com bases its free score on Experian data, offering a VantageScore 3.0 and Experian credit score.  CreditKarma offers two scores – your VantageScore credit score and your TransRisk credit score –  which are both based on TransUnion data. 

What that means for you: Not much, says John Ulzheimer credit expert for Creditsesame.com.   " Your scores should be similar regardless of where you get them as long  as your credit data is similar. And, those scores are going to be  directionally similar to your FICO score. So, if you have great credit  you'll have a great score regardless of what model is being used.  If  you have poor credit you'll have a poor score regardless of what model  is being used." 

Our advice: Check your scores on all three sites (Why not? They're free). If your Credit.com score is way off from your CreditKarma score, it could be a clue that there's an error on either your Experian or TransUnion credit reports and vice versa. 

The bottom line:  Whether you pay for your credit score or not, don't get too caught up in the number itself. Since there are so many kinds of scores out there and lenders pick and choose which ones to judge you by, it's nearly impossible to keep track of them all. Instead, focus on which risk category you find yourself in (example: low risk, high risk, excellent, etc.).

On a related note, the fact that your credit score can be based on different sets of credit data makes it essential to check your credit report at each credit reporting agency (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) at least once a year. If there are errors, dispute them using the online forms from their websites.

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