As mentioned in the post Fix Your Credit Report, you can get your credit report for free (typically once every twelve months, barring exceptions). On the other hand, you’re going to have to reach into your pocket and spend some cash if you’d like your actual credit (FICO) scores. The makeup and meaning of FICO scores will be discussed in an in-depth manner in our book, but we’ll cover retrieving the scores themselves for now. When you pay for your actual credit scores, you’ll notice that the scores you receive from each of the main credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) are almost always different. It’s worth noting that Experian uses a different credit score system (they no longer use FICO) than Transunion and Equifax.
Since we have to pay for our FICO scores, we’ll work with “FAKO” scores. These educational scores provide ballpark estimates for the actual FICO scores. Now here’s the catch: If you are applying for a mortgage or loan and need your exact score, bite the bullet and pay for your actual scores. A few point swing can mean the difference between getting a favorable interest rate and an unfavorable interest rate, and in turn, saving thousands of dollars or not. The “FAKO” scores are not used by lenders while the FICO scores are, so it’s always best to play it safe.
Several sites exist that can provide estimates (“educational credit scores”) for your credit scores. Here are a few you should know about and use.
Credit Karma – Credit Karma gives you a score, which they call a TransRisk score, based on your Transunion credit report. It ranges from 300-850. Getting the estimate is free (don’t forget, it’s just an estimate!). If you’re just checking it to make sure you can apply for a credit card, it should work just fine. Regardless, Credit Karma is a useful tool to simply monitor your TransUnion credit report. This information is accurate. You do have to give them your social security number so they can retrieve your TransUnion credit information, so it requires a degree of trust. Thousands of people including myself have used it without issue. Credit Karma now offers the ability to view your TransUnion VantageScore, a rival of FICO, as well. The VantageScore ranges from 501-990. If you see any discrepancies in the information on Credit Karma, you should contact TransUnion itself after checking your credit report.
Credit Sesame – Credit Sesame provides you with a free score based on your Experian credit report. The site provides you with an Experian National Equivalency Score. Don’t forget that this isn’t your actual FICO score, but a similar model which should be relatively accurate. Although the other data on the site may not always be updated (such as utilization ratio, etc.), it’s still worth taking a look at if you’re curious. If you have no idea what your credit score might be, this is a good way to find out where it hovers. If you’re looking to take out a loan, opt for the real thing. A lot of the recommendations it provides may not be your best bet (for example, it may recommend high-APR credit cards), so be sure to do some research after reading its recommendations as well.
Quizzle - Quizzle is another company which provides you with a free score, which they call a CE score, based on your Experian credit report. The company is part of the Quicken Loans family. The CE score given ranges from 350-850. The score is not terribly accurate, as it uses a formula much different than the one FICO uses. For example, 10% of the CE score is based on cash flow, which doesn’t appear in FICO’s formula. One advantage of Quizzle is that it allows you to view your complete Experian report for free, without any blanks in it. You can do this free on annualcreditreport.com (once every twelve months) or for one dollar on Experian (as long as you cancel within seven days. If you don’t, you’ll be charged $17.95/month). One extra plus is that you don’t have to submit your social security number like you do on Credit Sesame and Credit Karma. All in all, the site is quite user-friendly and has numerous tools you can use. It’s certainly worth checking out for the credit report alone.
Up to earlier this year, Equifax used to provide a free score “range.” Unfortunately, the service appears to be no longer available. At this time, there are no alternatives to find the exact score.
The short version:
If you want ball-park figures on your credit scores, check out all the free sites above. If you need a dead-on figure, spend a few bucks and opt for the real thing. To view your actual FICO score(s), you can visit MyFICO. You will have to pay for it, but it will show you your actual scores. Remember – this is what banks actually use to determine whether you can receive a loan or not. When it really matters, spend the money and get the exact numbers.