How to Check and Improve Your Credit Scores

It’s Usually Free

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Your credit scores affect several important areas of your life. Whether you’re getting a loan, renting housing, or buying insurance, higher credit scores can help you get approved—and save you money. That’s why it’s crucial to understand how credit works and to keep your scores as high as possible.

How to Check Your Credit Scores

It’s easy to see your credit score, and you can often do so for free. For a quick credit check, start with your bank or credit card issuer. Some financial institutions provide free credit scores to customers, and all you need to do is log in online or check the app for your scores.

If your bank or credit card provides free scores, there’s probably no need to sign up for a new service unless you need a specific type of score.

If you can’t get your scores that way, you can try several other sources that offer free credit scores even if you’re not a customer. These companies are an excellent place to start learning about your credit, and they provide access to both FICO Scores and VantageScores from all three credit bureaus. If you need a configuration that’s not available for free, you can purchase specific scores and reports as needed.

Where to Get Your Credit Scores
Provider Cost Type Source
Discover Free FICO Experian
Chase Free VantageScore TransUnion
Capital One Free VantageScore TransUnion
Experian Free FICO Experian
NAV Free VantageScore Equifax and TransUnion
CreditKarma Free VantageScore Experian
MyFICO $19.95 FICO Experian

You don’t necessarily have to pay for a credit score, especially if you just want to learn more about your credit.

Discover Credit Scorecard
This tool provides free access to your FICO Score calculated based on your Experian credit reports. The score updates every 30 days (or when you log in, whichever is later), and you don’t need to be a Discover Bank customer or cardholder to use the service.

Chase Credit Journey
Chase Credit Journey has a VantageScore derived from your TransUnion credit reports. You can also use a score simulator to predict how your credit score might change if you pay down debt or make other changes. The score updates weekly.
Capital One CreditWise
This service offers a VantageScore calculated with your TransUnion report and refreshed weekly. You also receive credit monitoring on your Experian and TransUnion credit reports and additional “dark web” fraud monitoring.

Experian Free Credit Score
Experian is currently the only major credit bureau that offers a free credit score. You receive a FICO Score that refreshes every 30 days, as well as a monthly credit report and credit monitoring on your Experian credit reports.

NAV
NAV provides both personal and business credit scores for free, making it a unique offering for business owners. Start with your VantageScore based on your Experian and TransUnion credit reports. In addition, you receive both Experian and Dun & Bradstreet business credit scores. The scores are refreshed every 30 days.

CreditKarma
CreditKarma is one of the few places to get a free credit score from your Equifax credit report. The service provides VantageScores based on both Equifax and TransUnion data, which update as often as every week. You can also sign up for credit monitoring to learn about new inquiries into your credit and changes to your score.

MyFICO
MyFICO is part of the company that developed the FICO Score. You can choose to buy a one-time credit score from an individual credit bureau or buy ratings from all three major agencies at once. You can also sign up for ongoing credit score updates and credit monitoring, although that may be more than most consumers need.

How to Improve Your Credit

If your scores are lower than you’d like, you may be able to improve them. 

Improving the information in your credit reports is the only way to raise your credit scores.

Your credit scores are a result of the details contained in your credit reports. To create a score, a computer model analyzes your credit reports and generates a three-digit number that summarizes all of the data in your credit reports. 

Credit scoring models look for clues about how likely you are to repay your debts. A long history of borrowing and repaying loans is favorable, while late payments and bankruptcies can bring down your score. There are several ways to improve your scores.

Check your credit: Start by understanding what’s in your credit reports. This is the raw information that credit scoring models use, so you need to know what’s influencing your credit score. Federal law allows you to order one free credit report each year, so take advantage of that benefit.

Keep balances low: If you’re maxing out your credit cards, your scores are most likely suffering. Keep your balances below 30% of your available credit limit—the lower, the better. For example, if your credit card allows you to borrow $10,000, keep your balance well below $3,000.

Fix errors: Mistakes can cause your credit scores to fall. If your reports show late payments but you always pay on time, your scores could be higher. Fixing errors takes time, but federal law enables you to clear up mistakes so you get the scores you deserve.

Get current: If you’re behind on payments, getting caught up will help your credit scores. It may take time for those improvements to materialize in your credit scores, but the sooner you get current, the sooner your scores can heal.

Build credit: If your credit scores are low because you don’t have any borrowing history, start borrowing wisely to establish a credit profile. Credit builder loans can help you begin the process, and they may be easy to qualify for if you deposit cash with the lender. Secured credit cards can do the same thing. 

Limit new credit applications: If you apply for a lot of credit cards in a short period of time, you may look desperate to creditors. Try to limit the number of new inquiries on your credit report, unless you’re shopping for a mortgage or car loan.