Almost everyone knows they have a credit score and that’s it’s important. But people get confused when they see their scores in multiple places and they’re different, sometimes really different. To add another layer to an already confusing topic, there’s no such thing as your one, true credit score. You have many. How many? It depends. Credit scores became an important piece of financial data for lenders back in 1970 with the passing of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which created a regulated system to more fairly determine who would receive a loan. There are three main credit agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each compile and create their own credit report on you. Creditors may send your information to one, two or all three agencies and they don’t share information between them. Since each may have different data on you, this can result in three different scores. The agencies utilize different scoring models called the FICO score and the VantageScore. FICO, or Fair Isaac Corporation is a predictive analytics company and they get their data from the three credit agencies. It’s the most popular and widely used among lenders but FICO is not a credit reporting agency itself. VantageScore launched its score as a joint effort between the three credit agencies as an alternative to the FICO Score. It has several versions (3.0, 4.0, etc) and lenders are able to select which version they want to use based on how the different formulas are weighted. The good news is, the breakdown of what impacts the credit score and how it is weighted is more or less the same for both FICO and VantageScore, for the most part. So if you want to improve your credit score, you can just follow the same basic steps to improve your score, no matter which score that actually is.
So how do you check your score(s) for free? Here are a few options:
Your bank or credit union: This may be a FICO or VantageScore, depending on which one they choose to use. Your score is often available in your online account, or in the mobile app.
Your credit card company: This may be a FICO or VantageScore, depending on which one they choose to use. For example, Discover and Barclays offers a free FICO score. Chase Credit offers a free Vantage 3.0 score.
Other companies: Credit Karma uses both Equifax and TransUnion to supply your scores. Credit Sesame and NerdWallet will show you your VantageScore from TransUnion. All of these require that you create an account and verify your identity.
Credit agency: Experian offers users who create an account their FICO score at no charge.