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Why Getting Your Credit Score Is Harder Than It Should Be

Lyle Daly, The Motley Fool

Yes, getting your credit score is unnecessarily difficult. Here’s why.

Person Checking Credit Score On Phone And Computer

Image source: Getty Images.

For such an important measure of your financial health, your credit score isn’t exactly easy to find. It often seems like the credit bureaus keep your score under lock and key, and that they aren’t too keen on sharing it with you.

You’d think that it’d be best for consumers if we could all see our credit scores whenever we wanted. Why doesn’t it work this way? It all comes back to the fact that your credit score isn’t just a score -- it’s a product.

The business behind your credit score

As you may know, there are three separate credit bureaus in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These three bureaus all maintain credit files on consumers, and based on the information in these files, they also calculate credit scores.

What comes as a surprise to many people is that these credit bureaus aren’t government organizations or managed by the government. They’re private, for-profit businesses, and credit scores are a moneymaker for them.

By law, each credit bureau is required to issue you one free credit report per year. Your credit report will list what that credit bureau has on your file, such as accounts and credit inquiries. It does not, however, include a credit score.

The credit bureaus have no legal obligation to share your credit score with you. For that reason, it makes more sense for them to sell your score than to share it freely.

How credit bureaus profit off of credit services

A significant source of profit for credit bureaus is selling credit reports and scores to businesses (most often lenders) that are running credit checks. For example, when consumers apply for any of the following, the lender/business will almost always purchase a credit report from at least one credit bureau:

  • Mortgages
  • Auto loans
  • Personal loans
  • Credit cards
  • Renting a home

In fact, credit bureaus have a variety of credit scoring systems at their disposal, with each one tailored to specific types of applications. There are credit scores specifically for auto lenders, mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and more.

Credit bureaus don’t just sell your score to businesses, though. They will also sell it to you, typically as part of a credit monitoring service.

If the idea of paying to see your credit score seems ridiculous, you’re certainly not alone. You’d think that if you’re entitled to a free credit report, then a credit score should come with it. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to see your score without paying for it.

How to get your credit score for free

Gone are the days when the only way to see your credit score was to pay for it. Free credit monitoring is now a common extra perk available with many of the best credit cards, bank accounts, and even one of the credit bureaus (Experian).

Start by seeing whether any bank or credit card company that you use has a free credit score service. Quite a few of them do, and if yours does, this will be the most convenient way to get your credit score.

If that’s not an option, there are several companies offering free credit scores to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a customer or not. Discover® Credit Scorecard and Experian CreditWorksSM Basic are two popular free credit score services.

Just keep in mind that with these types of services, you’ll only see one type of credit score. To get a more thorough picture of your credit, you may want to use multiple credit score services and compare what each one says.

Getting your hands on your credit score

There’s no arguing that obtaining a credit score can be unnecessarily difficult for consumers. Since credit bureaus make money by selling credit scores, this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

On a positive note, there are ways to get ahold of your credit score out there, and many of them are free services. Once you know where to look, you’ll have an easy time staying on top of your credit.

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