Your FICO score and which credit issuers offer it for free
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
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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What are the different kinds of credit scores?
While there was originally only one FICO score, companies have developed different ways to measure your creditworthiness as time has passed. These include the FICO score 8 or 9, as well as the VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0.
There are several differences between the two methods. The FICO scores 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, be approved for a credit card or 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, such as 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.
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 — also known as 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.
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 through account services.
- Bank of America provides their consumers access to their FICO Score 8 credit score, updated monthly. To access your score, log into your account and click “View your FICO score.”
- Barclays provides you with your TransUnion FICO score for free on your monthly statement, either online or by mail. Barclays also informs you of any changes to your credit score via email alerts.
- Chase offers everyone the ability to check their credit score through “Chase’s Credit Journey,” 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 an eligible Citi card. Unlike other banks, Citi offers your Equifax credit score.
- Capital One provides you with the non-FICO TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 as part of a free service called CreditWise. 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.
- U.S. Bank provides their customers with the TransUnion Vantage 3.0 credit score via a service called CreditView. If you’re a U.S. Bank cardholder, log into your U.S. Bank account to enroll and view your credit score for free.
- 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 eligible Wells Fargo customers pull their Experian FICO 9 Score. Cardholders are instructed to sign into their account and select “View your FICO Credit score” under “Planning & Tools” for desktop and tablet view or on the homepage of your Wells Fargo app. The score updates monthly around the same day every month.
Your FICO score is important to keep track of. Whether you're applying for a loan or a new credit card, your credit score will provide a helpful indication of what you're eligible for and what interest rates you can expect. Fortunately, most credit cards offer the ability to view your FICO score without hurting your credit, so you'll want to make a habit of using these free services regularly.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon and Carissa Rawson.
Feature photo by Maskot for Getty Images.