Checking your credit score regularly is smart, especially if you’re planning to buy a home. You shouldn’t have to pay for a monitoring service to help you keep your credit on track, either. Fortunately, you can choose from a variety of free credit score sites and apps to keep tabs on your numbers. But with so many options, which is the best?
By law, you’re entitled to view your credit report once a year on annualcreditreport.com—but that report doesn’t include your credit score itself. So if you’re hoping to quantify your credit report, you have two major options for getting a free score: credit cards (and their associated banks) and third-party apps and websites. But not all options are created equal—some may pull FICO scores while others will offer Vantage scores. So what’s the difference?
FICO is the most widely-used credit score by lenders and was invented in 1989 as a way to standardize credit reports in the financial industry. Vantage came along in 2006, and was created by the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) as a competition score to FICO.
“They both rely on slightly different models to create the score,” says Stephanie Bousley, a financial consultant and author. “For example, FICO treats all late payments the same, VantageScore judges them differently—it penalizes late mortgage payments more harshly than other types of credit.”
To make things even more complicated, each credit bureau processes and provides the score independently of each other. This means that there will be some variation in your score depending on which agency reports it. Sometimes which agency your future lender chooses can make a big difference when you’re applying for a loan.
“Most prospective lenders customize whatever scoring models they use to better suit their specific needs, whatever they are,” Bousley says. So she advises that any scores you see on free sites should be taken with a grain of salt: “Nowhere can you buy a score online, take it to the lender, and expect the lender to use that score for your application. So any paid or free online credit score will really just give you one version of the information and it’s not necessarily the same version whoever evaluating you is using.”
Which are the best free credit score sites?
If you’re about to apply for a major loan like a mortgage, Bousley recommends that you pay to download your score from FICO’s website. You can also get a free FICO score on freecreditscore.com or Discover’s Credit Scorecard. Unless you’re about to make a major purchase, there is no need to access your official score like this more than once a year.
Vantage scores are much easier to get—and is generally the score you get on free third party sites. On CreditKarma.com, you can access your TransUnion Vantage Score and Equifax Vantage Score for free. You can view your Experian Vantage score on Credit.com for free as well.
Here are some of the card issuers that now show customers their credit scores:
Of all the experts asked, Credit Karma seems to be the favorite for casual credit monitoring:
“I personally use the Credit Karma app, which provides detailed information on your credit reports with recommendations for improving your credit score,” Ashley Dull, credit strategist at CardRates.com, a consumer credit card review site. Personally, I use Credit Karma, too—it even helped me raise my credit score so I could buy a house!