Check Your Credit Score for Free (Without Hurting It)

Written by Elizabeth BoydSeptember 8th, 20225 minute read

Best ways to find your credit score | How a credit check affects your score | Monitoring your credit | Summary

You can check your credit score for free in several different ways without hurting it. The most common methods are through an annual free report, online credit monitoring services, and your credit card provider.

Two of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax and Experian — make the process simple through their online credit monitoring services. With their basic free service levels, you can check the VantageScore or FICO credit scores they generate for you. Happily, checking your own score doesn’t hurt it, regardless of which method you choose. In fact, it’s wise to stay on top of your credit health.

FICO vs. VantageScore

FICO scores
VantageScores
Scoring model developed by Fair Isaac Corporation
Scoring model created by three credit bureaus
300–850 score range (poor, fair, good, etc.)
300–850 score range (poor, fair, good, etc.)
Different scores for each credit bureau
Same score for each bureau
Requires one credit line at least 6 months old and activity in the prior 6 months to generate a score
Only needs one credit line, any age, to generate a score
More weight on current card balances
More weight on length of credit and types of credit
Most used by lenders
Most used by free credit monitoring sites and prequalification screenings

Best ways to get a free credit score without hurting it

Credit bureaus categorize credit score requests (known as "credit inquiries" or "credit pulls") as hard or soft. Hard inquiries often impact your score, but soft pulls usually have no effect. Fortunately, checking your own score is considered a soft inquiry, so it doesn’t hurt it.

1. Get free credit reports directly from the credit bureaus

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion must provide a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months upon request (thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act).

You may be eligible for additional free credit reports if:

  • A lender denied your credit application within the past 60 days
  • You receive government aid
  • You have fraud alerts on your credit reports because you suspect you’re the victim of fraud or identity theft
  • You’re jobless and want to look for work within the next 60 days
  • Your state provides a free or low-cost credit report

These states offer additional free credit reports every 12 months:
AL, AK, AZ, AR, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OR, PA, RI, TN, TX, VT, WI

You must provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth to verify your identity. You can request your eligible free or reduced-cost credit reports online:

Credit report vs. credit score

A credit report describes all your credit activity, while your credit score is like a grade identifying how creditworthy you are.

» MORE: What's the difference between a credit report and a credit score?

You can get free credit scores directly from Equifax and Experian. However, their scores vary, and some are more accurate than others.

Equifax Core Credit gives you updated reports and VantageScore credit scores every 31 days. It also presents the pros and cons of the factors affecting your credit score.

The credit report summary includes revolving accounts, mortgage accounts, installment accounts, consumer statements, personal information, inquiries, public records, and collections (if applicable).

Some additional features let you file credit disputes and freeze your credit account. Alternatively, you can opt for a paid upgrade to receive daily credit score updates and credit report monitoring.

Like Equifax, Experian CreditWorks has monthly credit scores and reports, supports credit account freezes and disputes, and supplies valuable information about your score.

But Experian’s free service uses the FICO scoring model, which is what most lenders use for credit decisions.

Experian will ask if you want to upgrade every time you log in.

  • For a fee, Experian will provide you with monthly FICO scores from all three credit bureaus.
  • If you stick with the free option, you can still see your Experian credit score monthly.

Experian Boost also gives users credit for a positive payment history for their mobile phone, utilities, and streaming services. The potential credit score boost only impacts your Experian score.

Consumers with specific credit cards, like from US Bank, can use TransUnion CreditView at no cost. Otherwise, TransUnion's credit monitoring service is only offered as a paid service, at $24.95 per month.

CreditView sends you monthly updates of your VantageScore 3.0 credit score and history, a score simulator, and a credit overview with the sponsored free version. It’s a basic interface with limited functions. But the service does email you credit alerts when new activity is reported to the bureau, such as a hard pull.

2. Use a free credit score app or website

Checking your score using a credit monitoring service won’t hurt it because it counts as a soft inquiry. But it still provides helpful information about your creditworthiness, helping you monitor where you fall on the scale of poor to excellent credit.

Unfortunately, most free credit monitoring websites use the VantageScore model, which isn't what most potential lenders use (FICO). Also, while the basic services are free, the companies often advertise their paid service heavily.

Credit monitoring service
Perks
Score update frequency
CreditKarma
(Equifax and TransUnion)
Tips on how to improve credit score
User-friendly platform notifies you of a hard inquiry
Daily
Credit Sesame
(TransUnion)
Free educational information and credit report analysis
Monthly
Credit.com
(Experian)
Generates a FICO score, which is what most credit lenders look at
Every two weeks
MyCreditGuide
(TransUnion and American Express)
Open to anyone, including non–American Express cardholders
Weekly

3. Check if your bank or credit card provider already offers free credit score monitoring

Many banks, credit unions, and credit cards offer free credit monitoring services. Some use the VantageScore model while others provide a FICO score.

Some popular options:

When does a credit check hurt your credit score?

Each hard inquiry (which happens when lenders perform credit checks) can hurt your credit score by a few points. That's because it usually means you're applying for a loan or credit card — i.e., planning to take on more debt.

Hard inquiries stay on your report for about two years. But the impact is immediate and usually only lasts a year.

Credit bureaus usually group car loans and mortgages applications together over a finite period (typically 14–45 days), treating them as one hard inquiry during that time frame. This lets you shop around for the best rates and terms without hurting your credit too severely.

Why it’s a good idea to monitor your credit

Even if you don’t use credit cards, you’ll likely need credit if you want to make a substantial purchase. A good credit score is necessary to qualify for a home or auto loan. And the better your score, the better your terms and interest rate will be.

It literally pays to stay on top of your credit. When buying a home, the interest rate you qualify for can make an expensive difference. Even a half percentage point can mean paying tens of thousands more overall.

For example, say you finance a $350,000 fixed rate mortgage at 5% over 30 years. Your monthly payment will be $1,879, and you'll pay $326,395 in interest over the life of the loan. But a 5.5% rate bumps your payments to $1,987 and your total interest to $365,414.

Summary

  • You can find your score by checking with the three credit bureaus, free online services, or through your banking provider.
  • Equifax and Experian offer free credit monitoring services, while TransUnion without a qualifying credit account.
  • Many free services only provide a VantageScore credit score instead of the FICO scores that most lenders use.
  • Checking your own credit score doesn’t hurt it because that is a soft pull or a soft inquiry. In contrast, a hard inquiry can impact your credit score.

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