In today’s financial market, whether you get a mortgage or a credit card is sometimes determined by one simple factor: your credit score. This numerical rating, based on information in your credit report, offers a straightforward method to determine your risk of loan default. It’s no surprise that customers want to know their credit score as soon as possible, preferably as part of a free credit check.
Avoid Getting Trapped
There are several websites that promise to provide free credit ratings. However, many of them have a major flaw: they are not really free.
When visitors join up, they are often unknowingly enrolled in a credit monitoring business that levies a monthly fee. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sought to put a stop to this practice in 2010. It requires “free” sites to provide a notice stating that the only permitted source for no-cost credit reports (but not free credit scores) under federal law is AnnualCreditReport.com. 12
Credit monitoring organizations cleverly avoided these notices. To bypass the FTC ruling, FreeCreditReport.com, possibly the most well-known of these sites, started selling credit scores for $1 (and then donating the $1 to charity). 3 According to The New York Times, clients who requested their credit score were subsequently given a free trial membership to a monthly credit monitoring program. They were charged $14.95 each month if they did not cancel within seven days. 4 FreeCreditReport.com, on the other hand, is now openly advertised as “a division of Experian,” the well-known credit agency, and promises to provide free credit monitoring with “no credit card necessary.” 5
The $1 gambit, on the other hand, seems to have relocated. CreditCheckTotal.com presently provides three credit reports and a FICO score for $1 as part of a seven-day trial membership in Experian CreditCheck Total. After seven days, during which you can cancel your membership at any time, you will be charged $29.99 per month for the service (roughly double the rate charged in 2010), and while you can cancel at any time, the fine print states that “you will not be eligible for a prorated refund of your current month’s paid membership fee.” 6 It is evident that vigilance is still necessary.
Top Sites for Free Credit Reports
Though some websites use the word “free” loosely, there are more locations than ever to get a really free credit report. These are some examples:
- Sesame Street (which, at the time of writing, is also one of the best credit monitoring services currently available)7
- Credit Karma8
- Bankrate (formerly Quizzle)9
- Intuit Mint12
Instead of collecting money directly from customers, these companies either collect advertising income or charge their lending partners a fee when a new client comes via the site.
If you’re looking for a catch, look no further: The numerical rating provided by these sites is not the FICO score that most banks use to make loan decisions. Instead, they provide you with a VantageScore, which was developed in partnership with the big three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. It takes the same fundamental information from your credit reports but computes the score using a slightly different mathematical algorithm. 1516
That isn’t to imply VantageScores aren’t useful. They’re nevertheless valuable for monitoring overall credit patterns and providing an approximation of what lenders use.
Top Sites for Free Credit Scores
If you want to view your real FICO score, you need contact your bank or credit card provider. To encourage new consumers, an increasing number of credit card issuers now provide really free credit ratings. They are as follows:
- American Express17
- Bank of America18
- Wells Fargo23
Anyone else who visits myFICO.com and wants their true FICO score may have to pay. The website provides both one-time and monthly packages. The monthly subscriptions are $19.95 (basic), $29.95 (advanced), or $39.95 (premier), with the advanced and premier plans adding identity theft monitoring. 24
The two one-time packages cost $19.95 for a report from one credit agency and $59.85 for all three. 25 Naturally, the more you spend, the more features you get.
As previously stated, if you only want to view your credit report without seeing your score, you may do so once a year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. The advantage of using this government-approved website is that you may get reports from all three agencies. Because some banks only utilize one or two of the reports to make lending choices, it’s always a good idea to double-check that all three have correct information about your borrowing history.
The Bottom Line
Despite the FTC’s efforts to promote openness, some websites providing “free” credit scores have discovered a method to circumvent the restrictions. If a website requests your credit card information before offering a score, you should anticipate a cost to show on your account before long. Of course, considering there are free sites for viewing this data, you should definitely begin your search there.
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