A reader working to qualify for a mortgage writes:
“I have checked my credit with the three bureaus, and they seem to have all my info up to date and everything looks good. My problem is that on the free credit reports I received (via annualcreditreport.com), I can see everything except my FICO score. Before I go see another mortgage guy, I want to make sure my FICO score is at least half decent. I am willing to pay a nominal fee each time I see it, but I certainly do not want to be involved in monthly credit monitoring programs, which is what everyone wants to sell me.”
Credit reports don’t include credit scores.
For better or worse, everybody’s obsessed with one number when it comes to credit: the FICO score. And this reader’s right. Wherever you obtain a copy your own credit report (from annualcreditreport.com or any of the free-trial/paid credit monitoring programs), it does not include a credit score—the numerical indicator of your creditworthiness.
Although it’s important to check your credit score at least once a year to ensure its accurate, looking at your report doesn’t give you a sense of how lenders will perceive your credit—or how your credit compares to nationwide averages. If you’re trying to build credit to qualify for a mortgage or auto loan, there is no way to know when your credit history is “good enough” to get a good rate.
Hence, it’s a good idea to check your own FICO score from time to time. There are two ways to go about doing this.
The FICO score is a proprietary product offered to lenders by the Fair Isaac Corporation. Unlike the three credit bureaus, the government does not mandate Fair Isaac provide consumers with a free way to access their FICO score.
To check your own FICO score, you’ll have to pay for it. You can check your score at myFICO.com using their FICO Essentials 1B package for $19.95. You can also choose from different monthly credit monitoring plans that you may not need unless you want to see how your score is growing over time.
Credit Karma provides a free alternative to myFICO, although the service uses a different version of your credit score — called a Vantage Score. Your Vantage Score provides a good estimation of your credit health and lets you track your progress over time, but it is a different number (and scale) than FICO scores, which are most commonly used by banks.
Still, I think Credit Karma is a great way to get a sense of how your credit report translates into a credit score and watch how your score moves over time—all for free.