In college, my weight & my credit score were both things I chose to ignore. Due to job loss, moving & not making smart financial choices, I ended up having the first car I financed on my own repossessed. That does a heck of a number to your credit, and at that point, I thought all hope was lost. I had various collections coming in from medical bills (because I didn’t have health insurance in college, thanks America) as well as a credit card I stopped paying for. Eventually most of those derogatory accounts fell off my report, but throughout my twenties, I never used credit and I still didn’t prioritize monitoring & caring for it. To this day, I still have a student loan that I took out in 2004 that has a 160+ day late remark that will continue to haunt me until the loan is paid off and 7+ years has passed. Word of advice, do not make late payments or allow an account to enter derogatory status if the account is expected to have a long life span, like student loans & mortgages.
When we decided we wanted to buy a new home, it was time to check my credit score—which up until then was easy to ignore. Sure, I had signed up for Credit Karma years ago, which proved to be helpful so I could see my historical data, but I hadn’t done a full detailed pull in years. I was clueless on how credit worked and what I should do and shouldn’t do.
If you do not know me, I will share a tidbit of information with you. When I decide I am going to do something, there isn’t much that I will let stand in my way. Sure, we all have unavoidable hurdles, but I have been pretty good at figuring out how to get around the hurdles when they are slowing me down. So this was just a new hurdle, or set of hurdles to get over (or around). I am planning to write a variety of posts about the things I learned about credit, but for now I will tell you that I spent months obsessing over my scores, what caused changes & spending hours reading articles, books & community forums. I may or may not have a problem with obsessing over things.
Let’s cut to the chase, there are many providers out there offering a free credit score, and I can guarantee I have tried them all. I am going to tell you the ones that I continue to check and the pros & cons to each.
Free Credit Score Services
We’ve all seen the commercials—they are tacky, but they get our attention. They are a legit service provider and I would probably consider them the best free service out there. FYI: I prefer the iOS app over the web browser version. I like the historical data available on the app & the credit changes are easier to find.
- TransUnion & Equifax! Offers Vantage scores from TransUnion & Equifax, this is the only service I have found that offers Equifax (for free)
- Live Balances—Allows you to track live balances of some of your credit accounts
- Credit Changes—It gives me a list of what changed recently. They also provide a green, yellow or red indicator to provide you insight into whether that change was positive, neutral or negative.
- Full Credit Report—Only a handful of free services provide a full report
- Approval Odds—If you are in the market for a new credit card or loan, the approval odds are super handy. Do not apply for credit without checking your approval odds OR looking for a card with a pre-qualification offer. Many cards have a pre-qualification application that does a soft credit pull that does not affect your score, always check if the card you are interested in has a pre-qualification option!
- Weekly Updates—A standard timeframe for free services, but Credit Karma would be a dead winner if I could get updates daily.
- Vantage Score—All the free services are Vantage scores, for the most part. Vantage scores are not usually what banks use and your score on Credit Karma can be drastically different than the score a bank may see. Most mortgage companies, auto loans & other loans pull a FICO score.
- Approval Odds can be misleading—because they use Vantage Scores, the approval odds, although have proved to be pretty close, aren’t 100% accurate since most major lenders, like American Express & Discover, use FICO scores.
If WalletHub was a bit more detailed and offered Equifax (or Experian) along with TransUnion, they would definitely be my favorite.
- Daily Updates—this feature is amazing when you are trying anything and everything to increase your score. Things can change quickly and VERY slowly in the credit world. Therefore, daily monitoring can be helpful when you are going through the repair or improve phase of credit building.
- Credit Changes—on WalletHub, credit changes are very obvious and they require you to acknowledge them. Monitoring credit changes is by far the most important thing you should prioritize.
- Detailed Credit Analysis—they have a helpful credit analysis page that breaks down the different areas of a credit score and how you are doing in each. They also have a section where you can simulate actions and what the corresponding results may be. Not always accurate though because when I entered a balance pay-off it told me my score would go down, which with FICO scores, would never happen. The lower your credit card balances, the better!
- Auto Loan Approval Odds—also offers credit card approval odds, like Credit Karma, but you can also look at auto loan approval odds too.
- Report Views—they offer two vies when reviewing your report—full & timeline. I like the timeline view because I can see a lot of historical data around credit changes, where on Credit Karma those disappear after a few days.
- Only offers TransUnion Vantage score.
- Wallet Fitness Plan—where you acknowledge all of the changes to your credit, can be a bit annoying if you are like me and like all of your alerts to be marked read.
I use Mint to help me organize my finances and budget so having my score available in the same place is great. I do not go out of my way to initiate the refresh on this one since it doesn’t offer me much compared to the others.
- Category Breakdown—it gives you a thorough breakdown of how your score is calculated and how you are rated in each area. They provide you very thorough information that will allow you to better understand credit scores.
- Just a Score—no report or detailed information about your credit.
- Only offers TransUnion Vantage score.
- Don’t quote me on this, but I think my score only updates once a month.
I really like NerdWallet. They have definitely increased the capabilities of their dashboard lately and offer a great detail of advice. Depending on recent changes or other things going on, they have suggestive articles and content related to things happening to you.
- Google Single Sign-On—here is the “Nerd” part of me coming out.
- Dashboard—the dashboard is appealing and keeps me engaged.
- Applicable Suggestive Content—when I was in my obsessive phase and trying to learn everything, their content proved very helpful.
- Cool Name—plus, their name is cool.
- Link Your Accounts—it look’s like they have a pretty neat finances area that I haven’t used before. (My bank account is currently being imported!)
- Detailed Credit Card Suggestions—they ask you a variety of questions to help you find a credit card that makes the most sense for you.
- Weekly Updates—hard to beat WalletHub’s daily updates!
- Again, only TransUnion Vantage score.
Credit Sesame is an okay offering. I only keep it around because it’s free, I prefer WalletHub or Credit Karma over Credit Sesame.
- Pay to Update—if you really want to check your updates TransUnion Vantage score, you can pay $1.99 for 7 days of refreshes.
- Debt to Income Ratio—one of the only services that asks for your income and gives you a debt-to-income ratio based on your credit profile.
- See If I’m Prequalified—they offer a quick form to obtain a pre-qualification for certain credit card lenders, which is more accurate than approval odds.
- Score can updates quickly, but credit report details seem to update slower than other services.
Credit.com is an okay service. It is lacking some of the expanded features the others offer but it’s the only free service that offers a Vantage score for Experian!
- Offers Experian Vantage score
- Lacking Complex Features
I am not going to break that site down as I just signed up because they bought out Quizzle. Feel free to check it out and see what you think
Free Credit Score Offerings from Credit Card Lenders
You Get What You Pay For
These free services are fantastic if you just want to learn a bit about your credit or monitor it, however, if you are looking at doing any serious lending, then you should be pulling your FICO scores. I have memberships with the following places and strongly recommend both of them.
MyFICO is a robust credit monitoring account, but it comes with a price of $39.95 per month (worth every penny). It gives you a monthly full credit report that banks use when making lending decisions as well as all of the different types of FICO scores—yes there are multiple scores and they are all calculated slightly differently.
- Scores that banks actually use—it includes all your FICO scores including mortgage, auto loan & credit card lending.
- Monitoring Alerts—I get alerts when things change via text message & on the mobile app.
- Monthly Detailed Report—you will get a monthly detailed credit report, and not a quick one the free services offer you.
- Score Simulator—a credit score simulator that is very accurate and utilizing scores that actually matter.
- Cost—but in my opinion, it’s totally worth it.
- Your other scores, like mortgage, auto loan & credit card, only update when you pull your full report.
Experian is by far the most advanced & organized credit reporting bureau, and their offering is top notch. It’s just as good, if not better, than MyFICO, however, it’s only your Experian data. You can get daily credit score updates including all of your other scores as well. I believe I pay $9.95 for month for this service.
- All the great perks as MyFICO, but you can refresh your other scores daily!
- Experian is the most organized of the three bureaus so because I can refresh daily, I know about changes immediately and can watch for them to change on the other bureaus. Equifax is the worst, so I watch that one like a hawk.
- None—except I wish TransUnion & Equifax would get their stuff together and do it like Experian!
You should definitely sign-up for Credit Karma & Credit.com, just because those two will cover all 3 credit bureaus (Vantage scores). If you can swing it, definitely sign-up for MyFICO, those are the scores that matter—and their forum is amazing and full of great information.
If you’re interested in learning how your credit score is calculated, check out this blog post.
If you try any of these services, I would love to hear what you think in the comments section below.