First off, there is no “free credit score.” That’s right. There is no free-credit-score. Seriously.
Sure, there are free trials that allow you to see your credit score for free for a certain period of time, but those aren’t technically “free credit scores.”
Especially if you forget to cancel the free trial before it starts billing you on a recurring basis. So we’ve put the “free credit score” myth to bed. Now what?
Free Credit Score vs. Free Credit Report
Well, the first thing you need to grasp is the difference between a credit report and a credit score, and more specifically, the difference between a free credit report and a free credit score.
The government provides access to a free credit report from the top 3 credit bureaus once annually, via AnnualCreditReport.com. That means three free credit reports a year from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (one from each every 12 months). But you only get them if you order them. They aren’t sent to you automatically, although they probably should be.
Additionally, these free credit reports do not contain credit scores, free or otherwise. Let me repeat. They do not contain free credit scores, or any credit scores for that matter. Not even a quasi-credit score like the ones offered by Credit Karma or Credit Sesame.
In order to get a free credit score, you either need to sign up for a free trial that offers a free credit score, or simply pay for it outright. The second option is not-so-free, but you get my point.
Now there’s nothing wrong with signing up for one of these free trials, but be sure you cancel the service before you’re billed, unless you actually want to monitor your credit score on an ongoing basis.
Tip: If you opt for a free credit report from the credit bureaus, they will relentlessly try to sell you a credit score on top of their free report, so be on the lookout for those pesky offers. And note that you will most likely only receive one score from the corresponding bureau, not all three. So it’s pretty much pointless.
Make Sure You Get All Three Free Credit Scores
One final suggestion. If you are after a free credit score, make sure the service you choose provides all three credit scores for free, not just one. That’s right, there are three credit scores, and knowing only one will mean very little if the bank or lender you apply with pulls one of the other two.
Yep, sometimes credit card issuers will rely on just one credit score, so if you don’t check all three, you could be out of luck if one is significantly lower than the other two (and you had no idea).
It’s not uncommon for your three credit scores to display quite a range, so find a service that provides them all. If we’re talking about a mortgage loan application, the lender will look at all three credit scores, then take the middle score. So if you don’t know all three going into it, you really won’t know where you truly stand.
Fortunately, there are services available that offer all 3 credit scores for free via trial. If you want to see your credit scores instantly, several companies will allow you to do so. I used a service to see all three of my credit scores and it was quick and painless.
Just be sure to cancel the free trial during the promotional period to avoid being charged, unless of course you want to track your credit scores over time.
So that’s it. As always, there is no free lunch. Or free credit score for that matter. Unless, of course, you’re a savvy consumer. However, that has changed somewhat since I wrote this article. If you have certain credit cards, such as Discover it, you get a free FICO score monthly with your credit card statement.