How to check your credit scores

In a Nutshell

You can check your credit scores a few different ways. And knowing your scores is important because they can affect your ability to qualify for a loan, rent an apartment, get a job and keep your auto insurance premiums low.
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If you want to check your credit scores, there are four main options — consumer credit bureaus, lenders or credit card issuers, credit score services and nonprofit credit counselors.

Some companies provide scores for free while others charge a fee. These companies may provide one or more of your credit scores, across credit-scoring models. Either way, checking your credit scores is typically easy. In some cases, you may need to provide a few pieces of personal information, such as your name, date of birth, address and Social Security number to receive access to your scores. In other cases, the information may be readily available on your monthly loan or credit card statement or once you log into your online account.

Let’s take a look at why checking your credit scores is important and where you can go to find them.

Why you should check your credit scores

Companies use your credit scores to make a number of decisions, including whether to approve you for loan applications, insurance premiums (in certain states), rental requests and, in some states, even employment applications. How high — or low — your scores are can influence everything from how much interest you’ll pay on your next loan to whether you get your dream job or apartment. That’s why it’s important to know how your scores stack up. And don’t worry — checking your scores is considered a soft credit inquiry, so your credit won’t be affected.

Why do I have different credit scores?

You have multiple credit scores, and they may not be the same. That’s because there’s more than one credit-scoring model, and different models have different scoring ranges. Plus, the criteria that’s used to generate your credit scores are weighed differently based on the scoring model being used. And some lenders may use different scores for different types of loans.

Where you can check your credit scores

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, U.S. consumers are entitled to receive one free credit report from each of the three major consumer credit bureaus every 12 months. But those reports don’t include free credit scores. To get your scores, you must request them separately. Here are four main places where you can get your credit scores.

  • Credit bureaus — You can get your scores from the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Transunion, but you might be charged a fee.
  • Lenders — If you have a credit card or loan, your credit card company or lender may provide access to your credit scores on your monthly statement or through your online account.
  • Credit score service — Many websites provide credit scores for free. But some may offer you access to your scores in exchange for a monthly fee. Before you sign up, make sure to read the fine print.
  • Nonprofit counselors — If you’re working with a reputable credit counselor or HUD-approved housing counselor, they may offer you access to your credit scores.

Keep in mind that some credit score providers may give you access to your educational scores, which are different from the scores lenders use. Most educational scores are close to the scores used by lenders. But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, found “a meaningful difference” between the two types of scores for one out of four people. If you use a credit score service, make sure you understand what type of score you’re getting.

How often should you check your credit scores?

The CFPB recommends checking your credit reports at least once a year as well as if you’re …

  • Applying for a loan. Whether you want to buy a house, apply for a car loan or open a new credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit scores before you submit your application. Your scores are one of the factors lenders consider when deciding whether to approve you for a loan and what interest rate you’ll be offered.  
  • A victim of identity theft. If your identity’s been stolen or you’re a victim of fraud, it makes sense to check your credit scores regularly until the issue has been resolved. You may also want to consider freezing your credit, which can make it tougher for fraudsters to open new accounts in your name. A credit-monitoring service may also be able to help you keep an eye on your credit reports and notify you about any changes to your accounts.
  • Applying for a job. Depending on where you live, employers and landlords may be able to look at your credit history as part of the application process. If you plan to apply for a new job, make sure your credit scores are accurate.
  • Building credit. If you’re just starting out or rebuilding credit after a rough financial patch, checking your scores more often can help you track your progress.

What to look for when you check your credit scores

Small fluctuations in your credit scores from day to day are normal. Instead of focusing on whether your scores have moved up or down by a few points, pay attention to long-term trends and big changes that occur suddenly.

Long-term trends can help you identify positive habits you want to continue and negative ones you want to modify. Sudden changes that you can’t explain based on recent activity, such as multiple late payments in your payment history, could be a sign that you’ve been a victim of identity theft or fraud. If you notice unusual changes in your scores, it’s important to find out what’s going on and take steps to dispute inaccuracies or file a report for identity theft right away.

Next steps

Because your credit scores are generated based on information included in your credit reports, it’s important to monitor your credit reports as well as your scores. You can start by getting a copy of your free annual credit report at Review your reports carefully to ensure all the information is accurate. If you find information that’s not correct, work to resolve it as soon as possible.

You can find out what your credit scores are by using one of the services we mentioned earlier. To get a better understanding of what your scores mean and how lenders may view your credit, check out our article on credit score ranges. If your scores need some work, our guide to building credit has some suggestions that might help.

About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Towson University. She’s committed… Read more.