A credit or FICO score is one of the most important financial pieces of information out there. It is an expression of a person’s creditworthiness based on information sourced by the three credit bureaus, specifically Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Historically, the score was a mystery to most individuals. The Annual Credit Report service, for example, offered users the opportunity to view their credit reports and confirm their accuracy, but did not provide the actual FICO number that is so critical to determining eligibility for credit cards, mortgages, car loans, and other lines of credit. As a result, paid credit monitoring services often took advantage of customers by providing the score in exchange for a paid subscription to the credit monitoring service.
Recently, however, legislative changes and action by regulators in Washington have allowed consumers to obtain their score free of charge. With a few bits of information, most people can now get their credit number using one of the following 4 methods.
1. The Credit Karma Website
Credit Karma was one of the very first websites to offer a numeric credit score to its users free of charge. Initially, Credit Karma pulled data from the Trans Union credit bureau and used it to simulate an individual’s numeric score. The result came close, but was not always an exact match to the actual score produced by Trans Union’s own algorithm. However, in recent years, Credit Karma went a step further by delivering the actual number to its users. Once a month, Credit Karma users can login and check changes to their actual FICO score. In exchange for the service, users are subjected to targeted advertisements for credit cards and other financial products based on their score. Other websites like credit.com offer a similar service.
2. Your Credit Card Provider
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, made possible by the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, ushered in a new era of credit report transparency. After passage of the act, credit card issuers started offering their customers their credit score free of charge as a benefit to having the card. Discover and Barclays were the first to roll out the service. Earlier this year, Citi Bank, Chase, and Bank of America jumped in the game as well.
3. Your Auto Loan or Mortgage
Several auto loan and mortgage servicing companies are offering customers their credit score free of charge as well. Ally Financial started providing the service to all of its auto loan customers this summer. When presenting the service for the first time, President and CEO Jeffrey Brown noted that “access to your FICO Score is the latest addition to the free resources Ally makes available to our customers to help them get educated on their personal financial matters.” Like Ally, other banks are using the availability of the FICO score as a value added service in a competitive marketplace for financial products.
4. Non-Profit Credit Counselors
HUD-approved housing counselors and other non-profit organizations can often provide a FICO score free of charge. Approved credit counselors can be found online by visiting the Department of Justice website. Housing counselors can be found by visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Both are excellent options for consumers without an existing credit history and without access to the internet.