Getting a free credit check online can give you access to valuable information about your credit history. There are many credit monitoring services that you can use, but it’s critical that you use a reputable source. What’s more, it’s important to understand what you’re getting for free and what costs money.
Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is a Credit Score?
Your credit score is a three-digit number that represents your credit history. The FICO score, which is the most widely used credit score, ranges from 300 to 850. Lenders use credit scores, among other factors, to determine whether or not to approve you for credit.
What Does a Credit Score Mean?
When you view your credit score, you’re looking at a numerical representation of the information found on your credit reports.
Credit scoring companies use complicated algorithms to assign risk to the various pieces of information on your credit reports. They then use those calculations to provide a simple picture of your overall credit health.
A credit score is important for many reasons, including in lending decisions, insurance applications, resident lease agreements, and even job opportunities.
What Are the Different Credit Scores?
There are many different credit scores out there. In addition to the most popular ones, the FICO score and the VantageScore credit score, some lenders use their own custom scoring model to help underwrite loan applications.
Even with FICO and VantageScore, there are several different scoring models. VantageScore has four versions of its scoring model, and FICO has dozens, including iterations specifically for credit cards, auto loans, mortgage loans, and more.
However, when you run a free credit check online, you’ll typically see a FICO 8 score or a VantageScore 3.0. These are both versions of the standard scoring model from their respective companies, but they’re not the most recent versions.
This is primarily because, with each new version, credit scoring companies make changes about what they include in their calculation. If a lender is happy with the credit assessment via an older model, it has no reason to switch. In fact, mortgage lenders typically use very old versions of the FICO score because of the guidelines set by government-backed companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Credit Scores vs. Credit Reports
While your credit score is a numerical representation of your overall credit health, your credit reports list the actual information credit scoring companies use to calculate your score. As such, it’s important to not only check your credit score regularly but also your credit reports.
You have three credit reports, one with each of the national major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Your credit reports contain information about all of your current credit accounts, as well as some old accounts. Account information typically includes the creditor, the current balance, the monthly payment, and more.
Your credit report also lists other credit-related items, including inquiries from your credit applications, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and more.
In other words, while your credit score can give you a good idea of how healthy your credit profile is, your credit report will help you pinpoint which areas you can address to improve and maintain a good credit score.
The Importance of Knowing Your Score
Virtually every time you apply for credit, the lender runs a hard credit check to determine your creditworthiness. The higher your credit score, the more likely it is that you’ll get approved and with favorable terms.
Most auto and homeowner’s insurance companies also use your credit reports to create a credit-based insurance score to help calculate your rate, and even landlords and employers may consider your credit reports when you’re renting an apartment or home or applying for a job.
Knowing your credit score helps you get an idea of where you stand with your credit health. If you have a high score, it means you’re doing something right, and you should continue practicing good credit habits to maintain it.
However, if your credit score is low, it may mean that you need to take some steps to improve it. If you never check your credit, you may have a lower score than you think.
Finally, checking your free credit score regularly can help you spot identity theft. If criminals get a hold of your Social Security number and name, they can apply for fraudulent accounts. If you check your credit score and reports regularly, you’ll be able to see the inquiry and the new account.
But if you don’t, you may not find out about it until the identity thief has already done significant damage.
Note that you can get a free copy of your credit reports once every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. Alternatively, you can get a free credit report from Experian whenever you want. Some other credit monitoring services may share information found on your credit reports, but they typically don’t give you access to the reports themselves.
Tips on How to Stay Safe When Checking Your Credit Score Online
As you prioritize checking your credit score regularly, here are some tips to help you do it safely and securely.
1. Use Reputable Sources
You can find free credit score information from a number of sources, but be wary of websites that you’re not familiar with.
Scammers will do just about anything to steal your personal information. Because you typically have to share at least part of your Social Security number for credit monitoring services, it’s best to do it only if you know the website is legitimate.
2. Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi Networks
When you use a public Wi-Fi network, such as the networks found in coffee shops and airports, anyone who’s savvy enough can access the data you transmit from your device to the website you’re using — that includes login credentials and any personal information you share.
To avoid this “eavesdropping,” use only private networks like the one in your home, or get a virtual private network (VPN) that you can use when you’re out and about. Even if you’re on a public network, VPNs create an encrypted connection that no one else can access.
3. Avoid Sharing Payment Information
Some websites claim that they offer a free credit score but on a trial basis only. These companies usually require that you provide payment information for when the free trial ends, at which point they’ll charge you for ongoing access.
While there are some good paid credit monitoring services that offer solid features, you should avoid sharing payment information when you’re just looking for a free credit check.
Where Can You Get a Free Credit Check Online?
There are several websites and financial institutions that offer free credit score information. However, it’s important to note that many give you a VantageScore, which provides a good idea of how healthy your credit history is. Still, it’s generally not used in lending decisions like the FICO score.
Here are some popular sources for a free credit check online:
- Experian: Offers free access to your FICO score based on your Experian credit report, plus free access to your Experian credit report. You can also get real-time updates when changes to your credit report occur.
- Discover Credit Scorecard: You’ll get a free FICO score based on your Experian credit report — you do not have to be a Discover customer to register. It also shares some basic information from your credit report, but it’s not in-depth.
- Your bank or credit card company: Many banks, credit unions, and credit card issuers offer a free credit score to their customers. This score can be a FICO score, VantageScore, or some other scoring model.
- Credit Karma: You’ll receive two VantageScore credit scores, one based on your TransUnion credit report and the other on your Equifax credit report. It also provides a lot of information found on both credit reports.
- Credit Sesame: Offers a VantageScore credit score based on your TransUnion credit report. You can also get free credit monitoring alerts.
- NerdWallet: Provides a free VantageScore credit score based on your TransUnion credit report. You can also get free credit monitoring alerts and personalized insights.