There are a couple simple ways you can check your credit score for free, and you'll want to do so before you pursue any goal that hinges on your credit — say, renting an apartment or applying for a car loan. Having bad credit often means you'll have to pay a lot more for a loan, while having good credit can save you thousands of dollars.
Monitoring your credit score can help you understand how your financial behavior, from opening a new credit card to paying off a card balance, influences that three-digit number.
Almost 1 in 5 credit card users mistakenly believe that checking their credit score could harm it, according to a 2018 survey from Discover. But that's a myth.
When you check your credit to track it, that's considered a so-called "soft pull." When a lender checks your credit after you apply for a new loan, that's called a "hard pull" — and that's the only kind of check that can have a temporary negative effect on your score.
"When you check your own credit report, it will not hurt your credit scores, as long as you're not having a friend at a car dealership or mortgage broker pull it for you," says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who has worked for FICO and Equifax.
Here are a couple places online where you can find out more information about your credit history and your credit score for free.
Some banks and credit card issuers, including Chase, Capital One, and American Express, provide their customers with access to a free credit score on their monthly statements or in their account online.
"If you have a credit card with almost any large card issuer, they are likely participating in FICO's Open Access program and you can see your score once a month on your statement," says Ulzheimer. "You can also check your FICO score at Discover's website even if you don't have a Discover card."
Overall, you have convenient options available to you so, as Ulzheimer puts it, "if you're buying a credit score, then you're really wasting your money."
Here are some key things to know about credit scores that can help you understand what to look for when you check yours:
- Your scores will vary. You could check your score in half a dozen places and get a different number at each one, due to differences like the score brand and version used and which credit bureau's data the site pulls. The chance of you getting the same exact score from any two websites "is small to none," explains Ulzheimer.
- Consider the big picture. Because your credit scores will vary, don't put too much stock in your exact score from any one site. If they all fall into the "good" range (661-780), for instance, it's fair to say your credit is good.
- Your free scores will be different than the ones lenders see. Lenders often use proprietary formulas based on factors of interest to them, so the scores may be tailored to a specific product, say auto loans or credit cards. Still, your free score will give you an idea of what lenders see.
- Pay attention to how your score is trending. Let's say your score recently went up to 700, moving you from the "fair" category into the "good" range. It's that upward curve, the trend line, that lenders tend to notice. Most free score resources will also include specifics about how you can raise your credit score.
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