Your FICO score and which credit cards offer it for free

Mar 1, 2020

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After a Social Security number, a FICO credit score is perhaps the most important number assigned to Americans, yet many people don’t know what that number is. In this post I’ll explain why your FICO score is so important, how it’s calculated, and how you can learn what it is by taking advantage of the rapidly expanding list of credit cards that will tell you your score for free.

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FICO score
Your FICO score is instrumental in how financial institutions view your creditworthiness.

What are the different kinds of credit scores?

While there was originally only one FICO score, as time has passed companies has developed different ways to measure your creditworthiness. These include the FICO score 8 or 9, as well as the VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0

There are a number of differences between the two methods. The FICO score 8 and 9 offer slightly different scores for each of the three major credit bureaus, while VantageScore offers a single number for all three bureaus. Other differences include importance given to bills sent to collection, credit utilization and hard inquiries.

Importance of the FICO credit score

Your FICO score (a product of the Fair Isaac Corporation) is the foundation of most financial transactions you make. If you want a loan at competitive interest rates, want to be approved for a credit card or want to pass a background check, you need to have an acceptable FICO score. Knowing your score can help you anticipate what to expect from these kinds of transactions.

Your FICO score isn’t static; it evolves with your finances and you can improve (or damage) it, depending on your degree of fiscal responsibility. That’s important because it means you can cultivate a high score over time with good financial habits, even if you have bad credit (or no credit). Your FICO score allows you to track the state of your finances and can alert you to any problems (like a missed payment or identity theft).

Knowing your FICO score is helpful when it comes to travel rewards because it can give you a sense of which credit cards you’re likely to be approved for, allowing you to maximize your applications.

The FICO formula is kept private, but we know the factors that affect your score. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

How your FICO score is determined

TPG has written previously about how your FICO score is compiled; here’s a brief refresher:

  • 35% payment history
  • 30% amounts owed
  • 15% length of credit history
  • 10% new credit
  • 10% types of credit

The factors that affect your score the most are late or missed payments and your credit utilization (the ratio of how much credit you’re using to how much credit is available to you). Length of credit history also affects your score, so it makes sense to keep your oldest accounts open unless you have a compelling reason to close them. Negative “remarks” (like a late payment or accounts in collections) stay on your credit report for seven years. That’s a long time to pay for a mistake and have it be an obstacle to earning points and miles. Fortunately, negative remarks affect your score less and less as they age.

Many credit cards offer some version of your credit score for free.

Credit cards that show your score

The good news is that accessing your FICO score for free is now easier than ever, thanks in large part to the FICO Score Open Access Program launched by the Fair Isaac Corporation. This program allows credit card issuers that have already purchased the FICO information to share it with customers at no additional charge.

The following credit card issuers now offer your FICO score for free, either online or with your monthly statement.

American Express provides its cardholders with not only an educational FICO score but also their Fico Score 8. The latter number is the credit score the issuer uses to manage cardmembers’ accounts, and is based on data from a major credit-rating agency, Experian. Current cardholders can log into their accounts and access their score on the right side of the screen.

Amex recently announced that all cardholders will receive their FICO score for free.

Bank of America provides “eligible customers with a consumer credit card” access to their FICO Score 8 credit score. The score is automatically updated monthly. To access your score, log into your account and click “View Your FICO Score.”

Barclays provides you with a TransUnion FICO score for free on your monthly statement, either online or by mail. Barclays also informs you of changes to your credit score via email alerts. Cards that offer this feature include the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, AAdvantage Aviator Personal Cards and Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®.

Chase offers everyone the ability to check their credit score, regardless of whether they’re a cardholder or not. These scores come from TransUnion and give you the non-FICO VantageScore 3.0.

Citi allows you to view your scores online if you have certain Citi-branded cards, including the Citi Rewards+® Card, the  Citi Premier® Card and Citi Prestige® Card. Fewer cobranded Citi cards offer this benefit, but the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® is among those that do. Unlike other banks, Citi offers your Equifax credit score. The information for the Citi Prestige, Barclaycard Arrival Plus, AAdvantage Aviator cards, and Hawaiian Airlines World Elite cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Capital One provides you with the non-FICO TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 as part of a free service called Credit Wise. These scores are available to everyone, whether you’re a cardholder or not.

Discover lets anyone pull their Experian FICO Score 8 credit score for free once every 30 days through Credit Scorecard. The score is calculated on the day you request it, so you’ll see your current credit score.

First National Bank of Omaha allows cardholders to see their score online for free.

U.S. Bank provides you with your Transunion credit score and two years of credit history with the bureau via a service called CreditView. If you’re a U.S. Bank cardholder, you’ll need to log into your U.S. Bank account and click through to your statement via the “Check Your Credit Score for Free” link on the left side.

The box outlined in red on the left shows the link that leads cardholders from the U.S. Bank site to Experian.

You’ll be informed that you’re leaving the U.S. Bank site and will be directed to the Experian site, where you’ll have to register your name and email address in order to be shown your score.

USAA allows its members access to their VantageScore 3.0 credit score through Experian’s CreditCheck service. The score automatically updates each month.

Wells Fargo lets the “primary account holder of an eligible Wells Fargo consumer account with a FICO Score available and enrolled in Wells Fargo Online banking” pull their Experian FICO 9 Score. Cardholders are instructed to sign onto their account and select “View Your FICO Credit Score” from the Planning and Tools section of their Account Summary. The score updates “on or around the 5th business day of each month.”

Additional reporting by Carissa Rawson.

Feature photo by The Points Guy.

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