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How to Get Your FICO Score

There are several ways to get your FICO® Scores, both for free and at a cost.

You can get your FICO® Score for free from hundreds of financial services companies, including banks, credit unions, credit card issuers and credit counselors that participate in the FICO® Score Open Access program and offer free scores to customers.

For example, if you sign up for a free credit score from Experian, you’ll get a FICO® Score 8 along with a copy of your credit report. Unlike some services that only track and show you your score, you’ll then be able to review the underlying information (the credit report) that led to the score. Signing up for the Experian CreditWorksSM Premium program will provide access to your base FICO® Score 8 as well as your FICO® Score 2, FICO® Auto Score 2 and FICO® Bankcard Score 2.

FICO® also sells scores on myFICO.com and authorizes “FICO® Score retailers.” These companies may offer free or paid access to FICO® Scores to consumers, and sometimes include additional products or services with your score.

Checking with your bank or current credit card issuers is another option you may have. For example, American Express cardholders can get a FICO® Score 8 based on their Experian credit report and Citi cardholders can get a FICO® Bankcard Score 8 based on their Equifax credit report.

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Fourth Stop: Contact the Expert (about freakin time)

Looking to sort through the credit score maze, I contacted personal finance guru and author of Your Credit Score, Your Money and What’s at Stake, Liz Weston and explained my situation to her.

First, Liz explained to me my Credit Sesame score. 

“It is true that the scores many consumers get aren’t FICOs, and these ‘consumer education’ scores can be 30 to 100 points higher than your FICOs.”

Okay, great!  Consumer education scores.  That helps a ton! I quickly began to realize there are several different types of credit scores.  So in fact, Credit Sesame’s credit score gives you a general range of where your credit score is at.  My score there wasn’t too far off, so at least it gave me a good starting point.   Now, what about the “mortgage report credit scores”

Liz had an idea but verified with a contact at FICO – nothing like going straight to the source!  She states,

“It was my understanding that most mortgage lenders use the classic FICO score, which is what you get at MyFico.com. The scores will be different day-to-day (and even sometimes intraday) because the information in your credit files is constantly changing.

I’m not sure what your banker means when he says Fannie and Freddie worked with the bureaus to changed the FICO formulas, since they (none of them, the agencies or the bureaus) wouldn’t be able to do that. That’s FICO (Fair Isaac’s) purview.

But this wouldn’t be the first time a banker or mortgage lender gave bad info. There’s a whole chapter in my credit scoring book devoted to myths perpetrated by those who should know better.”

She later confirmed that the banker was off in his statement.  In my banker’s defense, this stuff is really confusing – obviously.  Liz adds,

“Fannie and Freddie don’t do anything in concert when it comes to risk-evaluation tools, and neither do the bureaus, other than creating VantageScore as a would-be competitor to FICO (not that VS made much headway).

Fannie and Freddie are evaluating a version of the FICO called the FICO 8 Mortgage Score, but they have yet to tell the mortgage industry that they will accept that score instead of a classic FICO.

The FICO 8 Mortgage Score was introduced to lenders from Equifax in March but just became available to lenders from TransUnion and Experian last month, so your lender couldn’t have been using it to generate scores from all three bureaus earlier this year.

The FICO 8 Mortgage Score does give more weight to a person’s mortgage history, but not to collections. This is in line with other versions of the FICO, such as the one for the auto lending industry that gives more emphasis to a person’s auto loan history.”

There you have it. This is probably more information than you ever wanted to know about your credit score, but at least now I have a better understanding.

If you have a question for Liz, check out her site Ask Liz Weston.

  This lady knows her stuff.  Thanks Liz for helping out!

How Many Points Off Is Credit Karma?

The only possible answer is a few points, if any. Your credit score can vary every time it is calculated depending on whether the VantageScore or FICO model is used, or another scoring model, and even on which version of a model is used.

The important thing is that this number should be in the same slice of the pie chart that ranks a consumer as "bad," "fair," "good," "very good," or "exceptional." (Even the words on the pie chart can vary slightly.)

How Credit Karma Makes Money

Credit Karma’s business model is not entirely altruistic. It is a for-profit business that makes money by giving you a free credit score in exchange for learning more about your spending habits and charging companies to serve you targeted advertisements.

Credit Karma places advertisements in front of its users, hoping that they will respond to them by clicking on them. Many of these advertisers are lenders, and Credit Karma may earn a fee if you apply through one of its links.

Your personal data is valuable stuff to advertisers, and they pay more to target it. With more than 100 million users, this is a healthy revenue model for Credit Karma.

How to access your report

You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – once each year at AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228. You’re also entitled to see your credit report within 60 days of being denied credit, or if you are on welfare, unemployed, or your report is inaccurate.

It’s a good idea to request a credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies and to review them carefully, as each one may contain inconsistent information or inaccuracies. If you spot an error, request a dispute form from the agency within 30 days of receiving your report.

3. Citibank® credit cards

Another credit card issuer that will provide your FICO® score for free (for select Citi cards) is Citibank. Scores are based on your Equifax® credit reports and they update on a monthly basis.

5. Credit unions

If you don’t like using credit cards, another option for getting your FICO® scores for free is through a credit union. Not all of them offer this benefit, but if you belong to one, it’s worth checking. A couple of larger credit unions that offer free FICO® scores are Navy Federal Credit Union and DCU Credit Union.

Second Stop: My Banker

We just completed the building of our dream home earlier this year and refinanced when rates dropped a few months back, so I knew that my bank would have our most recent credit scores.  I contacted my banker to see what scores they had on me.

This is what I got from them:

“776 / 765 / 773    These are from all three credit bureaus.  Also, these are mortgage report credit scores which will be lower than credit scores that you would pull.”

Did you catch that?  Look again:

“….these are mortgage report credit scores…..”

Mortgage report credit scores….what the heck is that? (this is the classic phrase that my Phillipino mother says all the time.  Love you mom!)  Now thoroughly perplexed, I emailed my banker to see exactly what that meant.  His second response: (I’m sure he’s loving me by the way)

“I found out about a year ago, that Freddie & Fannie had been working with the three credit bureaus to set up a scoring model for the purpose of mortgage loan requests.  The mortgage scoring is tougher then the normal consumer scoring.  Both are FICO scores utilizing the same system, but as one example, consumer models don’t give a lot of weight to collection items, whereas the mortgage scoring system does.  People who have collection items on their credit will score lower with the mortgage scoring system then the traditional consumer scoring system.  That’s one of the examples, but since FICO is a proprietary system, the public knows very little about the full details that go into your score.”

After I read the email, this was my response:  Huh?

I knew at this time I was in way over my head.

Just like a typical male that won’t stop to ask directions when he’s completely lost, I trudged on hoping to find my answer of what my real credit score is. Next stop MyFico.com.

After going through this process, I have also learned that CreditKarma.com is also another option in retrieving your free credit score.  They pull your credit score from TransUnion.

Warning about (free credit report) impostor websites

Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law: AnnualCreditReport.com. Other websites that claim to offer "free credit reports," "free credit scores," or "free credit monitoring" are not part of the legally-mandated free annual credit report program.

In some cases, the "free" product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly "free" service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may unwittingly agree to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.

Some "impostor" sites use terms like "free report" in their names; others have URLs that purposely misspell Annualcreditreport.com in the hopes that you will mistype the name of the official site. Some of these "imposter" sites direct you to other sites that try to sell you something or collect your personal information.

Annualcreditreport.com and the nationwide credit reporting companies will not send you an email asking for your personal information. If you get an email, see a pop-up ad, or get a phone call from someone claiming to be from Annualcreditreport.com or any of the three nationwide credit reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. It’s probably a scam. Ensure you are on the right website by verifying through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

How is my FICO Score calculated?

Your FICO Score is derived from information in your credit report. Your credit report is a history of how you’ve handled borrowed money in the past.

When it comes to calculating your credit score, your data falls into five categories. Each category influences your credit score. How much? It varies.

Here are the five categories. The percentages reflect the influence each has in determining how your FICO Score is calculated.

  • Payment history (35 percent). Did you pay past credit accounts on time?
  • Amounts owned (30 percent). How much do you owe? How does it compare to your available credit?
  • Length of credit history (15 percent). How long have your credit accounts been established? What’s the oldest one?
  • New credit (10 percent). How many new accounts have you opened in the last two years?
  • Credit mix (10 percent). What types of credit accounts do you have? These might include credit card, mortgage loan, and installment loans.

The factors that go into a FICO Score are based on the borrowing habits of the general U.S. population. FICO may not determine your credit score in exactly the same way.

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Best Places To Find Your Credit Score

If you are in the market for a loan, the best place to find the score most likely to be used by lenders is directly from FICO. You can click here to be directed to the FICO website, where you can check out your FICO score.

Another option is to check out Credit Karma. I did a study based on my own credit scores to see how similar their (free!) scores were to the actual FICO Score I obtained when I applied for a mortgage. The scores were surprisingly close. Plus, these services can show you what’s helping your scores and what’s hurting your scores. Even if the number isn’t perfect, you can get an idea of what you’re doing right and what you could do better if you need to improve your credit score.

And if you’re in the market for a big purchase — like a home or a mortgage refinance — that information can be invaluable.

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