Check Your Credit Score for Free

 Your credit score is the most important factor for most lenders when you want to take out a loan. The better your credit score, the better interest rates and terms you’ll qualify for.

What Is A Credit Score?

Your credit score is a method of evaluating your credit worthiness — that is, how likely you are to pay back your debts.

Your credit score is based on your credit reports, which are collected and maintained by three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

What Information Is Included In a Credit Report?

Your credit reports contain personal identifying information such as your name and address, as well as information about the age and types of credit accounts you’ve had — that is, whether they’re loans or credit cards.

Credit reports also include information about your credit limits and utilization rate for credit cards. In addition, your credit report may also collect data about missed or late payments, unpaid child support or alimony, and debts sent to collection agencies.

However, credit reporting agencies rely on creditors to report debts and delinquent payments to them. Creditors may choose to report this information to only one or two agencies, not all three. As a result, credit reports from each bureau may contain different information, which can affect credit scoring.

How Is Your Credit Score Calculated?

Credit scores use the information in your credit reports, but they are calculated by different scoring models. The most common scoring model is known as FICO; the second best known is called VantageScore.

Because FICO and VantageScore weight data differently and because your credit reports may contain different information, you don’t have a single consistent credit score. You actually have several scores. Some lenders may only look at your FICO score from one particular bureau; some lenders may look at your FICO score and your VantageScore across all three bureaus.

What If My Credit Scores Are Different?

A discrepancy in your scores isn’t automatically a cause for concern; you just need to make sure it’s not a result of an error in reporting. Lenders expect to see differences in credit scores and know how to account for the differences.

What Factors Affect Your Credit Score?

Five major factors ultimately decide your credit score, though FICO and VantageScore assign different weights to these factors. They are as follows:

  • Age of credit: This is basically the length of your credit history. Having longstanding accounts benefits your score.
  • Type of credit (known as your “credit mix”): The combination of credit cards, lines of credit, car loans, mortgages, student loans and other loans you have. Lenders look for a healthy mix of different types of credit.
  • Payment history (missed payments): Missed payments of 30, 60, 90 days or longer can stay on your credit report for up to seven years and heavily affect your score.
  • Balances: Lenders look at the overall balances of your credit cards but in particular your outstanding loans. High debts indicate high risk, but the type of debt is also taken into account (e.g., student loans vs personal loans).
  • Revolving utilization: Creditors also look at how much of your credit you’ve used compared to your available limit, as a specific factor. A lower revolving utilization is a good thing but creditors do expect you to use your credit cards, so no utilization is a bad thing as well.

FICO publishes what weighted percentages each factor has on a credit score. For example, your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your score, while your balances or amount owed accounts for 30% of your score.

VantageScore says that depth of credit — that is, the combination of age of credit and credit mix — account for 20 percent of your score while payment history makes up 40 percent. Balances account for just 6 percent of your VantageScore.

Which Factors Don’t Affect Your Credit Score

Some information in your credit report is strictly for identifying purposes. And some information just isn’t collected by your credit report at all and so doesn’t factor into your score. However, that information can still be considered as part of the overall evaluation of your creditworthiness. As such, this info does factor into the approval process for a credit card, loan, or mortgage.

Information that doesn’t affect your credit score, but may be used by lenders, includes the following:

  • Your age.
  • Your employment history, including length of employment and who you work for.
  • Your salary.
  • Where you live.
  • Demographic information such as race and marital status. (Using race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or marital status to determine credit scores is specifically prohibited by the Consumer Credit Protection Act, among other restrictions.)

How Do Lenders Use Your Credit Score?

Most lenders will have specific criteria for borrowers based on their credit score. Your score generally determines what interest rates you qualify for and potentially how much you can borrow.

However, some lenders may look at specific information on your credit report to make more nuanced decisions. For example, they may look at your history of missed payments, or they may look at whether you’ve recently opened a lot of new accounts, which could be a red flag.

Also bear in mind that lenders look at contextual information outside of your credit score to make decisions. That includes information such as your income and employment history, but in the case of mortgages, for example, there’s also home appraisals to worry about.

What Is A Good Credit Score?

Credit scores range from 300 to 850, with 850 being considered “perfect” credit. However, a credit score 800 or above is generally considered “excellent” and anything above 700 is considered “good.”

To be more specific, both FICO and VantageScore provide category ranges of scores.

300-579: Poor
580-669: Fair
670-739: Good
740-799: Very Good
800-850: Exceptional

300-600: Poor (Sub-prime)
601-660: Fair (Near-prime)
661-780: Good (Prime)
781-850: Excellent (Super-prime)

According to Experian, most Americans have credit scores between 600 and 750. The average score for 2022 was 714.

Borrowers who have “Good” or better credit will have no trouble qualifying for loans and credit cards, generally speaking. Consumers with “Fair” credit may still qualify for financial products but will face higher interest rates and less favorable terms, while those with “Poor” credit may struggle to qualify for financial products at all, or will face high interest rates.

How Do You Check Your Credit Score?

There are many ways to check your credit score. You likely have access to your credit score information for free already. If not, you can access through one of several services. In addition, premium credit monitoring services will provide your credit score as well as financial tools and/or identity theft protection, though these come for a monthly subscription cost, typically.

  1. Your Bank Or Lender: Banks, credit card servicers, and lenders often provide access to a credit score monitoring service for free. You’ll see this advertised on your monthly  statements or even in your online dashboard if it’s available.
  2. Credit Bureaus: The credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion, all provide credit scores. However, Transunion charges a monthly free while both Experian and Equifax and Experian are free. In addition, FICO and VantageScore both offer free credit scores, though VantageScore does so through a variety of partners.
  3. Paid Services: Premium credit monitoring services have advanced fraud detection, identity protection, and financial health tools designed to help you get ahead. It’s up to you to decide whether you just want your free credit score, or to pay for these premium options.

It’s also worth noting that your credit score and your credit report are not the same. By law you are legally entitled to a free copy of your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus once per year. These can be obtained from, a government-authorized site. However, if you want to monitor your credit report more actively, you’ll have to find a service that gives you more frequent access to your credit report, in addition to your credit score.

Finally, remember that in addition to you checking your own credit score, lenders will always check your score. Unfortunately, this will also have an effect on your credit.

Hard Credit Checks VS Soft Credit Checks

There are two kinds of credit checks, what are known as “hard pulls” and “soft pulls.” A hard pull has a definite effect on a consumer’s credit score, while a soft pull has no effect. This is because a hard pull has to be authorized by you, whereas nearly anyone can run a soft credit check on you. A lender that you’ve applied to will always do a hard pull on your credit score.

Soft credit checks don’t show up on your credit report. Prospective employers, insurance companies, and leasing companies often do soft credit pulls as part of a background check. However, if you’ve ever received a notice from a bank, lender, or credit card provider that you’re “pre-qualified,” the company has likely run a soft credit check on you, too.

Does Checking Your Credit Score Hurt It?

As a consumer, checking your credit score through a credit monitoring service doesn’t have any impact on your score. Those credit pulls are considered soft checks.

How Often Can I Check My Credit Score?

Credit monitoring services typically refresh their data on your credit score on a monthly basis. However, if you have a hard pull on your credit report and alerts set up, you may receive information about the change to your score almost as soon as it happens.

How Can I Improve My Credit Score?

With how complicated credit scores can be, we’re ultimately left with the question of, “Can I do anything to affect my credit score? Can I improve my credit score?”

It’s certainly easier to lower your credit score than raise it, but with patience, optimism, and consistency, you can actually improve your credit score. Here’s how:

Pay Bills On Time

This might seem obvious, but keep in mind that missed payments can stay on your credit history for up to seven years. Making sure you make your monthly payments on time each month will go a long way towards protecting your credit score and ultimately giving it a boost.

Pay Down Revolving Balances

Try for a revolving utilization rate of about 30%. Prioritizing bringing down your revolving utilization vs paying down overall balances on loans could have a significant effect on your credit score, particularly your FICO score.

Limit How Often You Open New Accounts

New credit accounts — loans, credit cards, etcs — require hard credit checks. Frequently opening new accounts means frequent hard pulls on your credit report, and thus a lower credit score. Be mindful of how often you open new accounts — not only to mind your budget, but to avoid penalizing your credit score.

Open New Accounts Strategically

If your credit history is thin or you’re just starting out building credit, opening new accounts can be used as a strategic tool. A modest personal loan or a credit card designed to help you build credit could be just the thing to boost your score as you start to build depth of credit. Just be careful that you borrow within your limits.

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