Many of us want to check our credit scores without paying, and the good news is: Yes, you can get that three-digit number for free from a variety of sources. Your credit card company or lender may offer a free way to check your credit score. And some services that include credit score monitoring are free.
Why is this free intel such a gift? Because keeping tabs on your credit scores can help you spot discrepancies or potentially fraudulent activities. It can also help you monitor your progress if you’re working hard to increase your scores. Higher scores may well unlock lower loan rates and other benefits.
So, to help you understand what to look for when reviewing your credit scores, here’s a breakdown of everything you should know:
• What a credit score is and why you should check it
• When a credit score check can hurt your score
• How to get a free look at your credit score
What Is a Credit Score?
A credit score is a three-digit number that lenders and creditors use to assess your creditworthiness. In other words, it helps lenders decide the probability of your repaying a loan or a line of credit. Credit scores are usually broken down into two types: generic and custom scores.
Information from lenders and businesses is reported to the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion, to calculate your generic score.
Conversely, individual lenders may create custom credit scores to determine your likelihood of repayment. These scores include credit reporting from the three credit bureaus and other data from their profile, such as your repayment history. This type of credit score is meant to determine your creditworthiness with regard to a specific type of lending (like a mortgage) or a particular lender.
It’s worth remembering that different scoring models use unique formulas to calculate your credit score. Companies like VantageScore® and FICO® have their own guidelines to determine your credit score. Therefore, your credit scores may vary.
Recommended: Why Do I Have Different Credit Scores?
What Is a Credit Score Range?
Now you know that your credit score may vary a bit, depending on whether it’s pulled from one of the big agencies or whether it’s a custom score. But let’s take a closer look at the number itself.
Credit scores typically range between 300 and 850. Usually, the higher your credit score, the less risky you are perceived in the eyes of lenders.
A bad credit score can result in your paying more to borrow money or even being declined.
The FICO ranges look like this:
• Poor: 300-579
• Fair: 580-669
• Good: 670-739
• Very good: 740-799
• Exceptional: 800-850
How Do I Check My Credit Score Without Paying?
You can find your credit score for free from a number of sources. Here are four:
• Ask Experian. You can get your free FICO score from Experian.
• Ask your credit card company or lender. You might be able to view your credit score by logging into your account. If not, your creditor or lender can point you in the right direction to access your score.
• Ask a credit counselor. Often, credit counselors can help you scratch that “How can I get my credit score for free?” itch. To find one in your neck of the woods, you can visit the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or NFCC.
• Sign up for a free money management app. Lots of choices are out there that let you track your accounts, budget, and optimize spending, but many of them have premium versions for a fee or are filled with ads. SoFi Relay is a free money tracker app that also updates your VantageScore 3.0 credit score weekly.
You can get free credit reports but not credit scores from AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s a good idea to check your credit reports at least once a year.
Why You Should Check Your Credit Scores
Monitoring your credit scores is important, and to do it for free is that much better. Here are some of the most important reasons to review your numbers:
• You can spot discrepancies or potential fraud. Unordinary activities will reveal themselves when you keep tabs on your credit scores. You can immediately spot red flags when something seems unusual (say, a score drops 40 points for no reason). This way, you can act right away, work toward getting your score back on track, or file a dispute if you detect fraud.
• You can gain insight into your financial situation. Understanding your credit scores can help you determine when it’s a good time to purchase a home or refinance your mortgage. For example, if a score is less than ideal, you may want to hold off on making big moves until you boost your score. The delay may help you qualify for more favorable terms and interest rates.
• You can better compare financial products. Lenders have different criteria and credit score requirements to qualify for specific products. So knowing your credit scores can help you determine if applying for a particular product is worth it or if you should explore other options.
• You can pinpoint ways to improve your scores. Having a handle on a credit score and the factors used to calculate it can help you optimize it. Some resources and websites may offer simulations so you can see how changing certain factors will alter your credit score.
When Will a Credit Check Hurt My Score?
You may have heard that a credit score check can lower your number. In some cases, it can. But when you check your own credit score, it won’t affect those digits. Pulling your score is referred to as a soft inquiry, and you can do so without affecting your credit score. At the very least, you should review your numbers before applying for any financing like a home or auto loan or a new credit card.
However, when you apply for new credit, the lender or creditor will conduct what’s known as a hard inquiry. This can indeed impact your score. For every new hard inquiry, your credit score may drop five points. When a potential lender looks into your file, it indicates that you may plan to take on more debt. Hence, the score drops. If you have several hard inquiries back to back, your credit score may decrease more than a few points. Some hard inquiries that could affect your credit include:
• Applying for a mortgage, auto loan, or personal loan
• Submitting a new utility application
• Applying for a new credit card
• Requesting a credit limit increase
• Renting an apartment
Take note, though: Credit bureaus consider rate shopping a financially responsible move and treat it differently than a standard hard inquiry.
When you’re rate shopping, FICO considers all inquiries when applying for student loans, auto loans, or mortgages a single inquiry as long as applications are submitted within a 45-day window. However, some lenders use the older FICO model, which has only a 14-day window for application submissions. If you are looking for a loan, keep these time frames in mind so your research doesn’t wind up decreasing your credit score.
Recommended: How Student Loans Affect Your Credit Score
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Is It Possible to Check Your Credit Score Through Your Bank?
Your bank accounts are the hub of so much of your financial life, you may wonder if your bank can help you check your credit score. It’s possible to view your credit score through many different financial institutions.
However, the bank may only show you the credit score it uses for its financing decisions. While there are many different versions of the FICO Score, banks commonly use either FICO Score 8 or 9. They may also use your VantageScore for lending decisions. Knowing the credit scoring model your bank uses can help you determine whether you’ll qualify for the most favorable lending terms available.
How Might Your Credit Score Impact the Credit Cards You Qualify for?
We’ve mentioned that there are advantages to having a good credit score, and that’s true when it comes to credit card approval. Here’s what you should know:
• First, the best reward cards usually require you to have excellent credit scores. The card issuer may give you full access to the best introductory offers and reward incentives if you have a good credit score. You may even be able to receive invitations to exclusive events, complimentary subscriptions to streaming services, or other benefits.
• Another perk of a good credit score is snagging the most favorable Annual Percentage Rate (APR), also known as your annual interest rate. Card issuers usually give the best rates to the applicants with the highest credit scores.
• Last, you may have a higher credit limit on your card if you have a better credit score. Higher credit limits may make some people think, “Great! I can spend more,” but that’s not how it works. A higher credit limit can help your credit utilization ratio, which is one factor credit bureaus use when assessing your credit score. Your credit utilization ratio is the percentage of credit you’re using versus your limit. Ratios of 30% is often considered the limit of what you want to use, and many believe that 10% is a more financially prudent number. So, having a high limit can help keep your credit utilization low as long as you use your credit responsibility. On the other hand, your credit utilization will work against you if you max out your credit card.
There are several free ways to access your credit scores, such as through your lender, a credit monitoring website, or a credit counselor. Accessing your score regularly can help you ensure there is no fraudulent activity while also making progress toward your goals. It can also help you improve your scores so you can enjoy the best possible rates on credit as well as other benefits.
Knowing and optimizing your credit scores is one important part of being financially responsible. Another path: Finding the best bank to suit your needs. If you’re shopping for a good place to put your money, consider SoFi. Our linked Checking and Savings accounts can help your money earn more money. Sign up with direct deposit, and you’ll get a hyper-competitive APY. What’s more, you won’t pay any account fees, and you’ll be able to access your paycheck up to two full days early
Does it cost money to check your credit scores?
There are several ways you can access your credit scores for free. They include asking your credit card company and signing up for free credit monitoring.
Can you check your credit without impacting your credit scores?
Checking your credit is considered a soft inquiry, which means it will not affect your scores. Check as often as you want without worrying about decreasing your numbers.
Can your bank provide your credit score?
Yes, many banks will share a credit score, but there are numerous credit score models, and your bank may only provide the one it uses to assess your creditworthiness. It may or may not be the figure that other lenders use.
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