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Should you pay to see your own credit score? Well, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does allow companies to charge you to see your score, so in some cases, you might not have a choice, especially if you need to repair damaged credit. However, there are ways to see your credit score for free, and that is generally enough for many people.

Note that a credit score is not the same thing as a credit report. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year under the law.

Key Takeaways

  • Your credit score is a numeric representation of your credit report.
  • You can get a free credit report once a year from all three major credit bureaus.
  • A number of credit card companies let you see your credit score for free, usually on a monthly basis.

Credit Score vs. Credit Report

A credit score is a number that evaluates your creditworthiness based on your credit history. Your credit score is a numerical representation of your credit report. The better your credit report is, the higher your credit score will be.

The credit report is a detailing of your credit history prepared by one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Once per year, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies. Just go to the government-sanctioned website and follow the simple instructions.

One Score Matters Most

Other companies market their own versions of a credit score, but one score matters the most: your FICO score. (The data analytics company that developed the FICO score, the Fair Isaac Corporation, is now also called FICO.)

In 2016 the Mercator Advisory Group conducted research that showed that about 90% of all lending decisions factor a FICO score into the mix. Thus, if you are going to pay for your score, it should be for that one. However, there are ways to get your score for free.

Free Sources of Credit Scores

A growing list of card companies provide your FICO score free of charge. They include:

  • Barclaycard US
  • Discover
  • First National Bank of Omaha
  • Citibank
  • Chase
  • Bank of America

Keep in mind that FICO scores are based on a single credit report from one credit bureau, not all three combined. Discover, for example, provides the TransUnion score. The differences among the scores should be minor, however.

When You Get a Home or an Auto Loan

If you have applied for a major purchase, the lender that pulled your report will probably give you a copy of your score if you ask. You are entitled to receive your score if your application for credit is turned down or you receive less-than-favorable terms as a result of your score.

It’s advisable to check your FICO score six months before a major purchase.

You Don’t Really Have to Know It

Your FICO score is a great way to quickly gauge the condition of your credit, but it’s nothing more than a reflection of your credit reports, which you can get for free annually. If you faithfully request all three reports once a year, examine them carefully, and clean up any misinformation, your credit score isn’t likely to tell you anything you don’t already know.

There are some exceptions. If you have damaged credit, your score is an easy way to measure your progress as you work to repair your credit. It’s also a good idea to look at your score six or more months before a major purchase to make sure you’re set up to get the best possible interest rates on a car loan or mortgage.

If you do have to pay for it, a one-time request for your FICO score will cost you about $20. You can also pay monthly for continuous credit monitoring, with FICO offering Basic ($19.95 per month), Advanced ($29.95 per month), and Premier ($39.95 per month) plans. However, in most cases, annually monitoring your credit report will probably be enough.

What’s a Good Credit Score?

FICO credit scores range from a rock bottom 300 to a top 850, with 300 to 579 rated poor, 580 to 669 fair, 670 to 739 good, 740 to 799 very good, and 800 and above excellent.

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