Checking Credit Score: How to Check Your Credit Score

Getting a copy of your credit report is not the same as viewing your credit score. You can check your credit score a number of different ways:

  1. You can request one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus by going to AnnualCreditReport.com, calling 1-877-322-8228 or completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, GA 30348-5281. Credit reports from the major credit bureaus usually do not contain credit scores. However, you can obtain your score from them for a fee.
  2. Some financial institutions will give your credit score on your statement or through their online portals.
  3. Some non-profit credit counselors provide free credit scores and help you review them.
  4. There are a number of third-party websites that give you access to your credit score. Some of these websites are free and others have fees. Be sure to read the terms and conditions before signing up.

What Your Credit Score Means

Your credit score is a number that is used to evaluate your credit-worthiness. There are different types of credit scores. Many creditors use your FICO® score, which is credit information provided by one of the three major credit reporting agencies and created by Fair Isaac Corporation. FICO scores take into account your payment history, how much debt you have, types of credit used, length of credit history, and new credit accounts, to determine your credit-worthiness. Other creditors use different scores, like your VantageScore®, which is a credit scoring model that uses credit bureau information to predict how likely you are to pay your credit obligations on time each month. Credit scores under some models range on a scale from 300-850. Knowing the number is the first step to understanding what your credit score means. The higher the score, the more credit-worthy the person is determined to be. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the median FICO score nationwide was 721 as of March 20151.

How Your Credit Score is Used

Credit scores are used to determine the credit-worthiness of a consumer. Sometimes, credit scores are used by landlords to help them make renting decisions. Consumers with higher credit scores are more likely to be approved for loans and mortgages and they’re more likely to get lower interest rates on those credit products. A lower interest rate can save the borrower money over the course of the loan. Some lenders specialize in lending to people with lower credit scores, however, the interest rates and fees associated with such loans tend to be higher.

Credit scores also may be used to determine the type of account offered by a financial institution. A bank may offer a secured card, which is offered by banks when someone’s credit doesn’t meet the threshold of acceptance, to an applicant with a lower credit score or no credit score. People with lower credit scores may be required to have a co-signer for a loan.

How Your Credit Score is Calculated

Your FICO score is calculated based upon the following 5 main elements in your credit report:

  • payment history
  • amount of debt and credit utilization
  • length of credit history
  • type of credit
  • new credit

Other scores take into consideration different elements.

If you’re trying to build credit, it’s important to understand how these factors work together. One of the most influential of these categories for your FICO score is the payment history. Having late payments, liens, charge-offs, and bankruptcies on your credit report can drastically harm your FICO score. Another influential category is the amount of debt you have and your credit utilization rate. If you already carry a lot of debt in the form of a mortgage, car loan, student loans, and/or maxed-out credit cards, then potential lenders may be concerned that you’re carrying more debt than you can handle.

The length of your credit history moderately influences your FICO score. This shows potential lenders how you handle credit over time. The type of credit and new credit inquires play a smaller role in calculating your FICO score. If you’re applying for a mortgage or preparing to finance a car, you might consider not applying for other types of credit.

1 Kritt, Erica, “Buying a home? The first step is to check your credit,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, January 9, 2017.

FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation.

VantageScore is a registered trademark of VantageScore Solutions, LLC.