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Did You Pay for Credit Scores? You Don't Need To

If you're paying to check your credit score, you've spent too much.

Image: Credit Card wallet :: 2009 Getty Images | 2009 Getty Images
Credit card issuers and mortgage lenders aren't the only ones who can see you credit score. It's worth the effort to build good credit. Getty Images
Credit card issuers and mortgage lenders aren't the only ones who can see you credit score. It's worth the effort to build good credit. Getty Images

If you're paying to check your credit score, you've spent too much.

Getting a look at that three-digit number — which lenders use as a measure of your creditworthiness to approve loans and set interest rates — is easier than ever.

"If you can't figure out where to get a free credit score these days, you're not looking," said John Ulzheimer, who has who has worked with FICO, Equifax and Credit.com.

Just take what you see with a grain of salt.

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Where to check your FICO credit score for free

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Discover is the latest company to offer free access to credit scores — not just for its cardholders, but to any consumer. The issuer's Credit Scorecard, which began last week, provides the commonly used FICO score, calculated in a range from 300 to 850 using data from credit scoring company Experian.

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(Discover cardholders have had access to their FICO score, using TransUnion data, on their monthly statements and online since 2013.)

Free scores have become a common promotion in recent years. A 2015 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report found that more than 50 million consumers had access to free credit scores through a credit-card issuer. (Those offering access to some or all cardholders include Barclaycard US, Capital One, Citibank, and First Bankcard.)

Consumers might also turn to free third-party sites. Among others, Bankrate.com, Credit.com, CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com and WalletHub.com all allow free looks at your score and generally the reports that influence it. Earlier this spring, Capital One rebranded its credit tracking tool CreditWise — which uses the TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 score — and opened access to all consumers.

"It's a really great advancement in the market," said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action.

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Keeping an eye on your score can help you take proactive steps to improve your credit and help you be a more informed borrower, she said. A sudden drop might also be a fast warning of fraud or identity theft.

Free options can also represent substantial savings. At MyFICO.com, the current price for scores and a report based on one bureau's data is $19.95, or $59.85 for those from all three credit scoring companies.

Keep in mind, however, that your free score will vary from source to source, based on the scoring model and credit firm used. Plus, none of the scores you have access to — free or paid — likely will be exactly what the lender sees when they pull your credit, said Ulzheimer.

"Even under the FICO brand, there are dozens of scores," he said. "There's nothing to suggest that just because that number might be a 750, if you went and applied for a mortgage even five minutes later, that you would see a 750."

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