How to Check Your Credit Score

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You can easily check your credit score online for free. (Photo: @MargJohnsonVA via Twenty20)
For purchases of almost any kind, Americans today rely on credit. It could be a personal line of credit or a credit card. To obtain a car loan or a service like car insurance, they rely on their credit score. Knowing your credit score can help you prepare financially for a major purchase, or it can help you find out if you’ve been a victim of identity fraud
How can you find out what your score is? Here’s what you need to know about checking your credit score. 

Basics of Credit Reports and Scores

What kinds of information will you find on your credit report? A typical credit report shows: 
  • Previous bill payment history
  • Loans from the past seven years
  • Current debt level 
  • Whether you’re current or late on payments
  • How many times you’ve been late, and by how many months
  • Employment history
  • Bankruptcies in the previous 10 years
Your credit score is calculated based on your previous history. Most lenders and credit bureaus use the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) scoring system, which tabulates scores from 300 to 850. A good credit score is usually 670 and up, with scores over 800 considered exceptional. 

What You’ll Need to Check Your Credit Score

Finding your credit score requires details that create a unique personal profile, including:
  • Your full legal name
  • Your current address
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your date of birth
You might need to provide a previous address if you’ve moved in the past two years, and you may be asked for information only you would know to verify your identity. 

Is It Free to Check Your Credit Score? 

You can obtain free credit scores. To do so, select one of the following methods: 
  • Create a profile on one of the three credit reporting companies’ websites — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — and provide your personal information.
  • Check your credit card statement, as many credit card companies have begun including your credit score on your statement.
  • Call your credit card company, which may provide you with your credit score over the phone.
If you’re willing to pay some money, you can get a comprehensive credit report that includes your credit score from one of the three credit bureaus or directly from FICO.

Getting Your Credit Report for Free

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), it’s now law that each of the three credit reporting companies must provide you with a free credit report periodically if you request it. The major credit bureaus used to be required to provide a free copy once every 12 months, but as of 2020, all U.S. citizens can receive six free credit reports per year through 2026 from Equifax. Through April 2021, all three credit bureaus are offering weekly online reports so you can assess your credit accurately.
To request your free credit report, which does not include your credit score, you must follow the steps at AnnualCreditReport.com

Are All Credit Checks the Same?

Your basic credit score and credit report can be found for free, but there’s more to it than that. The credit bureaus track data differently, so your scores can vary depending on the provider. When you pay for a comprehensive credit report, you receive added benefits that can include: 
  • A complete three-bureau score and report
  • Industry-specific credit scores for mortgages, vehicles, and such
  • Monitoring for identity fraud
  • Credit monitoring services
  • Identity theft insurance and identity restoration
Although you can find much of the information you want at no cost, the benefits found in a paid credit report could come in handy.