Just a few years ago, getting access to your FICO score would cost you. Despite being the main indicator of your creditworthiness, consumers had very little access to it.
In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Since then, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has called upon credit card issuers to help make the country’s credit system less opaque.
“FICO Score Open Access is a program that enables financial institutions to share FICO scores previously purchased [for example, for account review] with their customers,” says Tom Quinn, vice president of scores at FICO. “So, lenders participating in this program provide a FICO® Score that the lender uses for its credit risk evaluation.”
Discover led the way, offering a free FICO score to its cardholders in 2013. More banks followed suit and now, most major banks offer some kind of credit score, but not all offer FICO scores.
There are several different credit scoring models, but the most important ones to know are FICO and VantageScore. According to FICO, 90% of top lenders use its score when making lending decisions.
VantageScore, on the other hand, boasts that more than 2,400 lenders and 20 of the top 25 financial institutions use its score.
The two credit scoring models are similar in some ways but can vary wildly depending on your unique credit history. Because lenders use FICO more widely, it generally offers you a better idea of what lenders see when they check your credit.
What to watch out for
Unfortunately, there’s no one FICO score. Each of the three national credit bureaus processes your credit reports differently. So, you may see a different score coming from Experian than you would Equifax or TransUnion.
What’s more, FICO has tweaked its model several times over the years, but lenders aren’t required to use the latest model. As a result, you may see several different models depending on the bank and the type of credit you’re applying for.
To give you a better idea of what lenders see when you apply for credit, it’s best to try to get a copy of your FICO score from multiple sources. That way, if you see a major discrepancy in one, you can address it.
Where to get your free FICO score
The following major credit card issuers currently offer a free FICO score:
- Experian FICO Score, for all American Express® consumer credit cards
Bank of America
- TransUnion FICO Score, for eligible customers with a consumer credit card
- TransUnion FICO Score, for all Barclaycard US cardholders
- Experian FICO Score, for Chase Slate cardholders only
- Equifax FICO Bankcard Score, for Citi-branded credit cards only
Digital Federal Credit Union
- Equifax FICO Score, for all of its members
- TransUnion FICO Score for cardholders, and
- Experian FICO Score for anyone through Credit Scorecard – you don’t have to be a Discover customer
First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO)
- Experian FICO Bankcard Score, for all FNBO cardholders
- Equifax FICO Score, for all Voice Credit Card holders
PenFed Credit Union
- Equifax NextGen FICO Score, for all PenFed cardholders
- TransUnion FICO Score, for all Walmart credit cardholders who enroll in electronic statements
- Experian FICO Bankcard Score, for all Wells Fargo consumer cardholders
Many local and regional credit unions and banks also offer a free FICO score to their members. Check with yours to see whether it offers you access.
Should you apply for a credit card to get your FICO score?
If you’re looking for a new card, review the top credit cards and double check to make sure they offer a free FICO score. You don’t necessarily have to apply for a new card to get access to your score, though.
Discover’s Credit Scorecard is the best place to get your FICO score if you already have a card that offers it. You’ll get access to your score, as well as a handful of the major factors that influence it. This setup gives you an idea of which areas you’re doing well in and where you can improve.
Keep in mind, you do have to enter some personal information to gain access. This is because Discover is required to verify your identity before giving you access to such sensitive information.
Check your score often
Your credit score is a vital part of your financial life and now you have easier access to it than ever before.
With the launch of Discover’s Credit Scorecard, everyone should have free access to their FICO. Once you do get access, check your credit score at least once every month or two.
“In general, the more often someone checks their FICO Score, the better they can know where they stand,” Quinn says. “But it really can depend on the individual’s circumstances and objectives.”
Quinn notes that if you’re planning to borrow soon or are trying to build your credit, you may want to check your score more frequently. Doing this can help you catch any errors or major issues that come up.
Even if not much has changed with your credit habits, the credit bureaus sometimes make errors when compiling your data. What’s more, identity theft is becoming more prevalent, jumping 16% to 15.4 million victims in 2016.
Checking your credit score often allows you to detect major changes to your score. Note, however, that small fluctuations may happen and shouldn’t be as concerning. But if you do notice a big change, request a free copy of your credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can then try to pinpoint the problem and work to rectify it.
Also, keep in mind that checking your credit score doesn’t affect it in any way. It’s considered a soft inquiry and doesn’t ding your score.
Checking your score often while building your credit can also give you a good idea of the progress you’re making. Over time, you’ll get to know what actions help your score and which ones hurt it.
If you haven’t checked your credit score lately, check it now. Then determine whether there’s anything that needs improvement and set a goal to work on it.
Ben Luthi is a personal finance writer and a credit cards expert who loves helping consumers and business owners make better financial decisions. His work has been featured in Time, MarketWatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report, CNBC, Success Magazine, USA Today, The Huffington Post and many more.