Staying on top of your credit score is key to getting mortgages, auto loans and the most rewarding credit cards – and you may get free access to this information via your credit cards. Here’s a guide to the different scores card issuers offer.
You know your FICO credit score is an important number. More than 90% of U.S. lenders use FICO scores to determine which consumers qualify for loans and credit cards and at what interest rates, according to MyFICO.com.
Your three-digit FICO score can determine whether you qualify for a mortgage, auto loan or a top rewards credit card. That’s why it’s so important to check your FICO credit score regularly. You need to know if your score is a strong one or whether you need to take steps to improve it.
There was a time when the only way to see your FICO scores was to pay the three national credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. There was no way to see your FICO score for free.
That has changed. Today, banks, credit card issuers, credit unions and credit counseling agencies all provide free FICO scores for their customers. MyFICO.com says more than 300 million consumers’ accounts now have access to FICO scores.
Credit card issuers that offer free credit scores
Thanks to the FICO Score Open Access program, you can get your FICO scores free from more than 200 financial institutions, including banks, credit card providers, auto lenders and mortgage servicers.
The following major credit card issuers offer free credit scores to their cardholders, and most provide it to non-cardholders.
- American Express – Amex provides a free credit score, updated weekly, to anyone who enrolls in its free MyCreditGuide. The good news is you don’t even have to be an American Express cardholder to sign up. The program provides your VantageScore 3.0 credit score by TransUnion.
- Bank of America – This issuer provides free FICO scores, from TransUnion, to its cardholders monthly. The only requirement is you must have a consumer credit card and enroll in the program. The FICO score should be viewable through your account online or the mobile app.
- Capital One – Available to everyone, not just Capital One cardholders, Capital One’s CreditWise service gives you free access to your credit score. Anyone can sign up to view their VantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion and check their credit report. CreditWise will also track your Social Security number activity and scans for potential fraud on the dark web for you.
- Chase – This issuer offers Credit Journey to anyone, not just Chase cardholders, and even monitors any changes to your score. Your score will update itself every week on your account as well. Like the CreditWise tool, Credit Journey monitors your Social Security number activity, scans the dark web and may cover your expenses if you become a victim of identity theft.
- Citi – Depending on what card you have from Citi, it may be a card benefit for you to view your credit score for free. You must create an online account to be able to see your score, which is a FICO score provided by Equifax and updated monthly.
- Discover – The Credit Scorecard service allows everyone, not only Discover cardholders, to check their FICO credit score. Like the other free credit score services, Credit Scorecard will notify you of any major changes on your Experian credit report and scan for your Social Security number on the dark web.
- U.S. Bank – U.S. Bank cardholders can see their credit score for free on the U.S. Bank mobile app or online. The CreditView Dashboard provides your VantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion, the Score Simulator for suggestions on how to improve your credit and basic credit education.
- Wells Fargo – With this issuer, customers get access to free FICO scores, updated monthly, through Wells Fargo Online.
How to take advantage of free credit scores
Compared to the more widely used FICO score, VantageScore is newer, but it still condenses your information, based on payment history, credit type, credit utilization ratio and so on, into a three-digit score, ranging between 300 to 850.
And while it’s true that most lenders use the FICO score to determine if you qualify for a loan and at what interest rate, this doesn’t mean checking your VantageScore is not worthwhile. In fact, your VantageScore is often used by credit card issuers. Chris Butler, vice president of marketing at Equifax, said this score will give you a good idea of how strong your credit is. And that is a useful tool.
Butler, in fact, recommended that consumers check their credit scores – whether they are looking at their VantageScores, FICO scores or different proprietary scores offered by one of the bureaus – each month.
“It’s important that consumers engage with their credit,” Butler said. “Most consumers only think about their credit when they’re ready to apply for a mortgage or when they are looking for a loan for a car. But they should be monitoring their credit and looking at their credit reports on a regular basis. That’s part of developing a healthy financial lifestyle.”
“While most lenders will consider your FICO score first and foremost, VantageScore can be just as important because it gives you an overall look at your credit health,” said Joe Cortez, credit expert at IDSeal, a credit-monitoring and identity theft protection service. “A lower VantageScore means your FICO score may be subprime. A high VantageScore means your overall credit health is good.”
Kevin Haney, principal and founder of A.S.K. Benefit Solutions, said both FICO and VantageScore scoring models use the same source data to generate their scores, the credit reports maintained by TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Both scores are also effective ways for lenders to predict the future financial behavior of consumers.
Because of this, Haney said, FICO scores are not superior to VantageScores. The big difference between the scores? Most lenders use FICO to make lending decisions, which is why consumers typically focus on their FICO score instead of other alternative credit scores. As for credit card applications, staying aware of either your FICO score or VantageScore will give you a good idea of whether you qualify for a particular card.
Where to get your free FICO credit scores
Other than the major issuers, some of the lesser-known issuers, such as HSBC, Sallie Mae and UnionBank, also offer access to free FICO credit scores. Several credit unions also provide FICO scores for free, including Navy Federal Credit Union, Hudson Valley Credit Union, DCU, America First Credit Union and more.
Unlike in the past, you may also order a free credit score from two of the three national credit bureaus. Equifax launched a free program called Equifax Core Credit to give you access to a monthly Equifax credit report and your monthly VantageScore 3.0. Experian also offers access to a FICO Score 8, though this credit bureau doesn’t specify how often you can view your credit score. Unfortunately, TransUnion doesn’t provide scores for free.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that your credit score may not be the same across each credit bureau as some lenders may report your credit information to each bureau at different times.
Your FICO score can determine whether you qualify for a mortgage or loan or even the top rewards credit cards. It will also influence the interest rates you’re offered. Fortunately, most credit card issuers offer free access to one of the three credit bureaus and make it easy to check. Be sure to take advantage of this valuable perk.