How To Get A Free Experian FICO Credit Score
Published 3/29/09 (Modified 3/22/11)
Updated Review Of Ways To Get Your Experian FICO Credit Score Now
For credit report and FICO credit score junkies like myself, I was completed stunned and floored when I heard the official announcement that the Experian credit reporting agency would no longer be making its Experian FICO credit score available to consumers from hereon, effective February 14, 2009 (Valentine's Day no less). However, in an odd marketing twist, the Experian FICO scores would continue to be made available to lenders and businesses - just not to the hapless consumers who are actually concerned about their own personal finances.
For those who work hard at monitoring their credit reports and credit scores, and take diligent steps to ensure the maintenance of perpetually high FICO's, this news release exploded into our midst like a cruel bomb shell. So am I overreacting or is this move by Experian as significant as I'm seemingly making it out to be?
Lack Of Access To Experian FICO Credit Scores Ultimately Favors Lenders and Hurts Consumers
At a time when banks have grown extra stingy when it comes to lending money and it's becoming even more important for consumers like you and I to monitor our credit reports and credit scores regularly, we are now losing yet another option of doing so. Experian is one of the three major credit reporting agencies that maintain massive historical databases of how individuals and businesses handle credit usage responsibilities. Fair Isaac Corporation is the company that developed the popular and widely used FICO credit score, which uses a complex formula to convert credit report data into three numerical digits representing credit worthiness. As one of the 3 major credit reporting bureaus, Experian's decision to stop offering FICO scores derived from its credit reporting data to consumers is a major blow to credit transparency and the further advancement of fair lending practices.
Fortunately, the other two big credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, remain solidly under contract to allow FICO credit scores, so they shouldn't be disappearing anytime soon. However, by Experian unilaterally cutting off consumer access to Experian FICO credit scores, it essentially means that we now have access to 33 percent less important information than we did before in the past.
The inane aspect of this all is that while Experian has ended its agreement with Fair Isaac and MyFICO to sell Experian FICO credit scores to ordinary consumers, it has chosen to extend its contract to allow Experian FICO's to be sold to lenders. So while lenders, banks, and businesses will continue to have access to FICO credit scores based on Experian credit report data, consumers will now be partially blind to the precise information that lenders have during lending negotiations. This definitely stacks the lending odds against consumers, who are now going to be in the dark about a key metric component of their financial portfolio.
Frankly, the move by Experian to sever its 6 year partnership with MyFICO, while surprising given the current state of the economy and financial markets, isn't totally unexpected given the turbulent nature of the ongoing lawsuit between the two companies and the millions of dollars worth of FICO credit score revenue that Fair Isaac reaps each year from its monopolistic stranglehold over Experian. Unfortunately, consumers are still caught in the middle and will likely suffer by not having equal access to the entire array of credit scores and FICO data that Experian continues to offer the big lending banks.
Experian Credit Score Seekers Still Have Alternatives and Options (But Not Great Ones)
While access to our Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion credit reports remain unchanged, and we can still obtain our free credit reports annually courtesy of the federal government and various free online trial offers, Experian will no longer permit the developer of the FICO credit score to sell FICO products to consumers via the MyFICO website that utilize credit data from Experian credit reports. Unfortunately, current federal law under the Fair Credit Reporting Act only requires that the three major credit reporting agencies make our credit files available to us once a year, but there is no legal mandate that guarantees us access to our credit scores, FICO or otherwise, prior to applying for a loan.
However, while Experian will no longer make its credit data available to consumers for FICO credit score generation purposes, borrowers and consumers who desire to gain insight into their own Experian scores still have options. All indicators show that Experian is likely to continue peddling its own custom Experian PLUS Score and VantageScore variations to consumers. Unfortunately, while having them is better than nothing at all, these two credit score varieties are no where even close to the high adoption rates of FICO credit scores in terms of utilization by major lenders and banking institutions, and few lenders even acknowledge the use of the PLUS or Vantage Scores at this time. They are not even scored on the same numerical range or take into consideration the same proportional credit history factors - causing their current usefulness to be extremely suspect at best. Because these third party credit scores are not true FICO scores and are seldom used by the majority of lenders, they are frequently referred to as FAKO scores - mere distant seconds to the real thing.
Experian FICO Credit Scores Are Still Available, But In Very Limited Ways
So I guess the question remains - can you survive without the ability to get your official MyFICO credit score based on your Experian credit report information? Well, sure you can, but it may be somewhat more difficult to manage and improve your credit score over the long term. You can certainly still access your Experian Plus Fako score using Experian credit report data and get a general feel on where you stand in terms of your Experian credit data. The Experian Plus credit score, while not nearly the same as the FICO, uses a vaguely comparable (but not identical) scoring scale, similar to the FICO's 300-850 point scale for credit scoring.
You can also still purchase your FICO credit scores from Equifax or TransUnion via MyFICO's official website directly or through the credit agencies. While your Equifax and TransUnion produced FICO scores may be slightly different from your actual Experian FICO credit scores (due to data retention differences between the different credit reporting agencies), knowing these two other scores may give you a pretty accurate prediction of where you stand credit score-wise. Remember, you can still freely access your 3 annual credit reports and compare your Experian credit report data to that contained in your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports for rough comparison purposes.
Another way to project your Experian FICO score or your credit score in general is to utilize a free FICO credit score estimator such as the one being offered by MyFICO. The scoring accuracy of these simulators is debatable, but once again, it's better than nothing. Until Experian one day returns to the FICO fold (hey - it could happen), we'll simply have to make do and get by until a better alternative comes along. Aside from somehow being able to fake your identity and pose as a lender to get your hands on your actual Experian FICO credit score (I've tried), currently only lenders will continue to get direct access to Experian FICO credit scores.
However, another definitive way to get your genuine Experian FICO credit score is to simply apply for a major loan such as a mortgage for a home, and let the authorized lenders pull your scores for you. Consumers who apply for loans or mortgages can still get all 3 of their FICO credit scores through legitimate lenders. While many lenders usually only utilize the services of one credit reporting agency at a time, home mortgage lenders generally utilize all 3 for greater accuracy sake. When you apply for a home mortgage loan, more likely than not, your lending agent will submit a request for all 3 of your credit reports and all 3 of your FICO credit scores from the three credit agencies of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, when evaluating your claim request. Of course, while this is one sure fire way to get your Experian FICO credit score, it is important to realize that by authorizing the lender to pull your credit report and credit scores for lending purposes, you are consenting to a hard credit check that acts as an official credit score dinging inquiry. While personal look ups of one's own credit report through sites like FreeCreditReport.com or AnnualCreditReport.com result in no impact against your credit score, when banks or lending institutions do it for you pursuant to a loan application, this triggers a hard credit pull that does harm your credit score, albeit usually just for the short term.
Other than taking the hard credit check hit on your FICO to get a peak at your actual Experian FICO credit score, certain consumers may still be eligible to get continued access to their Experian generated FICO scores. The current list of institutions is small, but the list may ultimately expand depending on what type of special future agreements Experian decides to sign.
Currently, customers of the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union (PSECU) continue to have access to their Experian FICO scores through the PSECU Free FICO Score Service, thanks to a deal the credit union previously inked with Experian. While other lenders such as HSBC via its Sears Solution MasterCard, and the bank formerly known as Washington Mutual via its WaMu credit cards, offer(ed) similar free FICO credit score programs with Equifax and TransUnion, none except PSECU currently has an active deal with Experian.
I have looked into the matter and it is my current understanding that the PSECU credit union continues to pull free credit reports and free FICO scores via Experian, posting new scores online each month via its online banking site. There is no charge for the generous perk, but to participate in the FICO score service, you must have a checking account with PSECU or an active PSECU Loan.
While I am not currently a Pennsylvania state resident, nor am I related to anyone living in the state, I still made an effort to swindle (I can't help it, I'm an arbitrage seeker) my way into getting an account at PSECU bank - for the sake of satisfying my FICO mania and getting my hands on one of those monthly free Experian FICO scores. Unfortunately, not everyone is eligible to participate and join the credit union as their qualifications are rather strict, and as such I was quickly denied. Here are the basic eligibility qualifications. Sadly, other than moving there and becoming domiciled in Pennsylvania, that seems to be the only legitimate way to join. However, if you are a Pennsylvania resident, are currently a Pennsylvania state employee, or attended a participating small private college in Pennsylvania, you may be able to qualify for a bank account with the credit union.
Hopefully this cooperation agreement between Experian and the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union signifies the beginning of a trend to offer authentic FICO's and free credit scores for consumers of other banks and credit unions as well. Has anyone out there successfully signed up for a new account with PSECU and successfully gotten access to their free monthly Experian FICO credit scores? Please share your experience!