The Top 5 Places to Check Your Credit for FREE
There is a lot of misinformation in the free credit score industry. Shady sites have been known to employ bait-and-switch tactics that give you a legitimate credit score... and a monthly fee if you don't jump through subscription cancellation hoops.
While those scams have largely gone by the wayside, getting your free credit report and score can still seem daunting. Here's five sites we trust, as well as what you need to know about the recent Equifax hack.
Credit Report vs. Credit Score
First, you must understand the difference between a credit score and a credit report. There are three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Those bureaus each keep a record of the way you use credit — these dossiers are your credit reports. How do those bureaus get that info? They gather data from banks, credit card companies, and public records.
Your credit score is basically a summary of your credit report from one of these bureaus in numerical form. That gives your potential mortgage company or cell phone provider a quick way to determine your creditworthiness. The number is based on major factors such as payment history, bad marks on your credit report, the length of your credit history, the number of accounts held, and credit utilization.
Too Many Credit Scores to Count
Credit scores have taken on a life of their own. Even the major credit bureaus don't stick to a single score. They provide different scores for different situations — scores that can change, depending on what they're trying to convey.
FICO is the most well-known and widely used score. All scoring models apply the same basic information, they just weight things a bit differently. This can lead to slight differences between scores. It's usually just a few points, but the range could be closer to 30.
The Top Sites to Get Your Free Credit Score
There's been a recent trend of companies offering access to your credit score for free in order to win your business. Most of these provide reputable, widely used scores. A few, however, stand above the rest in terms of easy use and universal availability. Since your bank might not be offering you free access, here are four great sites to visit:
Discover runs this site, but it's available to you even if you don't have an account with the company. It provides your FICO Score based on data from Experian.
This site changed the credit score game when it launched 10 years ago. Credit Karma gives you two scores side by side, one from TransUnion and the other from Equifax. It also has great tools to help you understand why your credit score is what it is and how you can improve it.
Credit Sesame followed Credit Karma down the path of providing reputable, free credit scores in 2010. The score it provides is from TransUnion, and the site also has good tools to help you with your credit.
Capital One CreditWise
Capital One offers you a free look at your TransUnion VantageScore. Fortunately, you don't need to have an account with the bank/credit card provider to sign up. Most of the features it serves up are like the ones above, with one exception: CreditWise has a simulator that can help you run numbers on how specific credit moves will impact your overall score. It'll also pitch you certain relevant products... like credit cards.
The Only Place to Get Your Free Credit Report
Looking for freebies? There's really just one place online to get your credit report for free. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website that provides that information, per federal law, at no cost. Don't buy what anyone else is selling. You can get your credit report from each of the three major bureaus once per year, and it'll cost you nothing.
A good strategy for checking your credit is to pull a single report from a different bureau every four months. That way, you'll have an update on what your credit reports look like more frequently. If you pull all three on the same day, you'll have to wait a full year to check again.
Will Checking Your Score Hurt Your Credit?
The inquiries that you'll be doing through the websites listed above are considered "soft inquiries." Those sorts of credit checks won't affect your score. "Hard inquiries" are usually initiated by mortgage lenders and credit card issuers. Those types of inquiries will ding your score, but the effect is small.
About That Equifax Hack...
Equifax revealed last year that it had been hacked, leaving the private information of nearly 146 million people vulnerable. The compromised information included Social Security numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, driver's license numbers, and birth dates. Recently, Equifax submitted a document to the Senate Banking Committe that showed additional pieces of information, like tax ID numbers, email addresses, and phone numbers, had also been accessed.
Worse yet, Equifax chose not to make the general public aware until September, even though the breach took place between mid-May and July. Shockingly, senior executives (including CFO John Gamble) sold shares of company stock for $1.8 million during this time.
Ultimately, Equifax advised consumers to check if their information was compromised via this website. There's more than a 50% chance that any given person's information was included in the breach. For those affected, Equifax offered free credit monitoring with TrustedID Premier for a year; enrollment for that program ended January 31. Last month, the company launched a service that allows consumers to lock and unlock their credit reports with the company.
Readers, where do you go to see your credit score? Are there other free places to check your credit that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!