There’s a lot of good that comes as a result of more banks and credit card issuers providing their customers with free credit scores, like more informed and credit-savvy consumers. At the same time, the increasing number of free scores is a little overwhelming, leaving consumers to wonder how to digest all the information.
Depending on the financial services you use, you may have access to handful of your credit scores for free. There are services that provide them for free, like Credit.com’s tool that shows you two free credit scores. and then there are banks and credit card issuers that include scores on consumers’ statements or through their online accounts. For example, Citi, Discover and Barclaycard give some or all of their cardholders free access to the scores used to evaluate their accounts, which may be particularly helpful information if you’re thinking of asking for a credit limit increase.
The number of credit card issuers giving customers free credit scores has grown in the past several months, and if the trend continues, consumers will be awash in free credit scores. If you understand what all these scores mean, that’s a lot of good information, but if not, all you have is a bunch of numbers.
How to Make Sense of Your Scores
You don’t want to obsess over each score, especially if you keep getting more for free, but it’s smart to keep track of them. They’re likely all different. whether it’s because they’re generated by different algorithms or based on different credit reports. Either way, watching your scores for an anomaly or sudden change can help you identify errors in your credit history or fraud.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are a variety of credit scores. For example, a 650 on the FICO 8 scoring model isn’t the same as a 650 in the VantageScore 3.0 model, because of those differences in algorithms and data. If you get your free credit score from Discover, compare it with your past scores from Discover. It’s an apples-and-oranges kind of thing.
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Know Your Range
Scores differ in more than how they’re generated — they also have different scales. For example, FICO scores generally range from 300 to 850, but the Equifax FICO Bankcard Score 8 range is 250
to 900. VantageScore 3.0 ranges from 300 to 850, but versions 1.0 and 2.0 span 501 to 990. To really understand what your numbers mean, you have to know where they fall in the score spectrum.
Keep Scores in Perspective
Your credit scores will change often, so you shouldn’t worry about small score fluctuations. If you see a score drop more than 20 points since the last time you checked it, try to think of what drove that change (many free score programs tell you what influences your score most). If the shift doesn’t seem to line up with your actions, you’ll want to investigate potential causes, including fraud .
Remember, you can’t really compare scores generated by different formulas, but if you’re concerned about why one of your scores is much lower on its scale than your other scores are on their scales, you should find out what credit report it’s based on and review it. Keep in mind the formulas may weigh aspects of your credit history differently, but by asking a few questions and reviewing your credit reports, you can usually figure out why your scores are where they are.
Yes, this can add up to more work than you want to do. There’s no denying the free credit score space can be confusing for consumers, even though it’s a tool designed to help them. Mostly, you want to focus on maintaining good habits, like keeping your debt low and making payments on time. and make sure you regularly review your credit reports for errors.
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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi
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