Now that you’re well on your way to getting a good credit score, you’re going to need to check your progress to know when you’ve made it.
Thankfully, this has become easier than ever before. Years ago, you’d have to pay dearly for the privilege of checking a credit score from just one of the three major credit bureaus (Transunion, Experian, Equifax). Then, slowly, some amazing free services started popping up like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, which would allow you to check your credit score on a regular basis for free. Now, a veritable swath of banks are offering real FICO scores (the same score they use to determine whether or not to give you a credit card) for free, as a simple perk of having one of their credit cards.
That said, while checking your score has become easier than ever, not all services are made equal, so I’ll tell you what’s the best out there.
Here are the top five ways to get your comprehensive credit scores and credit reports:
1. Credit Karma – this is the gold standard. They’ll give you your Transunion and Equifax credit scores for free, and update your scores every week. They’ll also give you your complete Transunion and Equifax credit reports, which means you’ll be able to see absolutely all the data in your credit history from which your credit scores are calculated, and gain unparalleled insight into what’s positively or negatively impacting your score.
They also provide analysis on top of your scores and report and give you suggestions on what you can do to improve your score, which is pretty nice.
2. Credit Sesame – Credit Karma’s crappy little (unrelated-by-blood) brother, Credit Sesame is just about identical to Credit Karma, except less popular and worse in a lot of ways. That said, their partnership is with Experian, so by using Credit Sesame, you’ll get access to the one credit bureau that Credit Karma won’t give you. Thus, by using both Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, you’ll have access to your credit scores from all three major bureaus, giving you an unprecedented ability to keep on top of your credit health from all possible angles.
Unfortunately, Credit Sesame constantly tries to upsell you to their premium subscription services, and also tries to charge you for your credit report. Just ignore them and don’t give them any money and you’ll be fine.
3. AnnualCreditReport.com – a little known fact is that federal law mandates that each of the 3 major credit bureaus allows you to view your credit report for free once every 12 months. The official site to get these reports at is AnnualCreditReport.com, which is unfortunate, because it looks sketch as hell, has very little information identifying it as an actually federally mandated official site, and has about a billion near-identical copy-cat lookalikes that will just steal your money. But as per the FTC and ConsumerFinance.gov, this is indeed the real thing.
You can choose to get all 3 credit reports at one time, or choose just one at a time. Back in the day, before Credit Karma gave you weekly free credit reports from Transunion and Equifax, the strategy I would recommend would be getting one free credit report every 4 months, spacing out your credit reports perfectly so that you’ll be able to keep on top of your credit history on a 4 month basis instead of a 12 month basis. Example would be getting your Transunion report in January, your Experian in May, your Equifax in September, and your Transunion again in January, ad infinitum.
Now, since Credit Karma gives you free weekly Transunion and Equifax reports, the only one you really need from here is your Experian. As there’s typically no real need to cross check all 3 credit reports all the time, I’d recommend just saving this option for when you specifically need to look at your Experian credit report, such as if Credit Sesame is reporting an unusually low credit score calculated from your Experian credit report, and you’re about to open a credit card from a bank that pulls an Experian credit report.
That said, there’s no guarantee that Credit Karma will always allow free credit reports, and indeed it’s only been a very recent development, so definitely keep this site in your back pocket and remember it if you ever happen to have a need for a credit report in the future and can’t get it elsewhere.
4. By keeping open certain credit cards from certain banks
One important thing to note is that Credit Karma and Credit Sesame won’t give you an official “FICO” score, but will calculate your score using a different score calculation method. This is important as the methods they use to calculate your score aren’t the same as are typically used by banks to calculate your score.
Banks typically use what’s known as a FICO score in determining your creditworthiness, and so it’s important to get your official FICO score as well as the unofficial scores calculated by Credit Karma and Credit Sesame.
Thankfully, a ton of banks have recently begun offering their credit card holders free monthly access to an official FICO score. As of 2015, the following banks offer free monthly FICO scores to their credit card holders:
Discover –> TransUnion FICO Score free monthly
Barclaycard US –> TransUnion FICO Score free monthly
Citi –> Equifax FICO Score free monthly
First National –> Experian FICO Score free monthly
Chase Slate Card –> Owners of the Chase Slate Card receive free monthly FICO scores (specific to this card alone)
Bank of America –> Sometime in 2015, will begin offering FICO scores free monthly
CapitalOne –> Not an official FICO score, but they do give you a TransUnion credit score for free every month.
5. After you apply for any credit card and are denied, and certain other circumstances
As per the FTC:
“Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the credit reporting company. You’re also entitled to one free report a year if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; if you’re on welfare; or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft.”
If you apply for any credit card and are denied (even if you call reconsideration later and get approved, as happens very often), you’ll be sent a notice letter with instructions for how to access your credit report for free within 60 days of the notice letter. Just remember to actually keep that letter and read it carefully, and not accidentally throw it away. The benefits of reading fine print!
Cool. With those five methods listed above, you should have more than enough ways to check your credit scores and credit reports as much as you could possibly want.
Alright – congratulations! You’ve officially learned all you need to know to finally start diving into actually opening some credit cards. So let’s get started.
How should you apply for a credit card? Read on.