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FICO Score vs Credit Score: Do You Know Your FICO Credit Score?

Published 4/5/08 (Modified 3/1/12)
By MoneyBlueBook

FICO Score vs Credit Score: Do You Know Your FICO Credit Score?

I think most people are aware to a certain degree that it's important to maintain a healthy credit score. To financial institutions, mortgage brokers, landlords, and even employers, it's a quantifiable measure of your reliability when it comes to money. The formulated number represents your credit worthiness and the degree to which you are able to take on debt. Most banks and lenders utilize your credit score to determine how much interest they must charge you to compensate them for the risk of extending you credit. It impacts everything from applying for a home mortgage loan to getting approved for a routine balance transfer credit card. The lower the score, the higher the risk, and thus the higher the interest rate imposed to compensate for the likelihood of default. Especially during a time that the credit markets are getting battered, it's more important than ever to know your credit situation. It never hurts to keep tabs on your report, and to find ways to improve your credit score, since you never know when you may need to call upon your good credit. Remember, monitoring your own credit report is not considered a hard credit check, so you don't have to worry that it will hurt your credit score.

To combat the rise of identity theft and to give people more control over their credit lives, the Fair Credit Reporting Act offers consumers access to one free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This free credit report is available only through the official free credit report website, however, the free annual report does not include a free credit score. That has to be separately obtained by the applicant. But fear not - there are ways to get your credit score for free and inexpensively. If you don't mind taking advantage of liberal free trial periods or even applying for a credit card offer, then you have options at your disposal.

The FICO Credit Score Is What You Want - All Other Credit Scores Are Impostors

I'm personally obsessed with the FICO score, but that's because I see it as the most widely adopted and uniform measure of credit worthiness. However, there are numerous types of competing credit scores out there as well. The major credit reporting agencies have all developed their own credit scoring mathematical formulas and tried to push their scoring systems into the marketplace. However, those alternative scores are all currently useless imitations - mere feeble attempts to avoid having to pay royalty fees for using the most established scoring system of them all - the FICO credit score, developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. The FICO score is comprehensive and takes into consideration your entire credit history, current debt, payment history, account makeup, and all credit related activity. The FICO score that is produced ranges from 300 to 850, with 300 representing the worst credit score imaginable and 850 representing the positive end of the scale. Generally, any FICO score that is 700 or higher is regarded as very good and decent enough to secure favorable terms on credit applications.

Avoid The Fake Credit Scores (Also Known As Fako's) Such As TransUnion Score, Experian Plus Score, and the VantageScore

The variety of credit scores out there can be rather confusing at times and the credit reporting agencies do their job of making things extra cloudy to trick consumers into buying their brand of credit scores. On top of that, many people seem to confuse FICO scores with FICA's, which is something else completely. The FICA score is a similar sounding acronym in the world of personal finance that people sometimes confuse with FICO.

Regardless, the FICO credit score is the genuine article and the only one I personally care about when I request my credit report and score. The FICO score can be obtained separately from each of the major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Upon request, each pulls up all of the credit history information they've recorded to formulate a number based on the FICO scoring system. But keep in mind, if you request from the wrong place, the score issuer may end up trying to sell you a TransUnion Score, an Experian Plus score, or the jointly developed VantageScore. These alternative scores are similar to the FICO in methodology but their scoring numerations are different. For example, the VantageScore ranges from 501 to 990. It was developed by the three major credit reporting agencies as a competitor to the FICO, but the score is not commonly accepted and remains unproven. Until the VantageScore become more popular and broadly adopted, I recommend that you avoid this particular score, and stick with the FICO. Never blindly assume you are getting a FICO score - always make sure it says FICO, and not just simply "credit score". You want to request consistent and universal scores over time so that you can compare apples to apples, and not apples to oranges.

The Process Of Obtaining and Finding Out Your Free FICO Credit Score

When you start searching for a way to review your FICO score for free, you will probably come across a lot of online businesses offering you a free score. However, these free scores typically require you to sign up for a particular credit service, usually some type of credit monitoring report that will alert you to any suspicious activity or changes in your credit history file. For those who want to diligently stay on top of their credit scores or anticipate needing credit in the next few months, these services may provide you with worthwhile fraud and credit improvement protection, but they usually also come with a monthly fee. To take advantage of these free trial services for the complimentary period (usually 30 days), you will usually have to give the company your credit card number upfront before you can view your FICO score. I've personally obtained my FICO score for free before with no problem by signing up for free trial offers, and canceling the service before the end of the trial period to avoid getting billed. It's not that difficult - just make sure you cancel in time. Sometimes the companies make it a little harder for you to cancel by requiring the account to stay active for a few weeks, or require that you use their slow customer service phone number instead of canceling online, but there will always be a way to cancel before the trial deadline is up.

There are plenty of companies out there that purport to offer free FICO credit monitoring or credit score viewing trial periods, but I recommend that you stick with the more established sites such as MyFICO (for more information, please read the MyFICO Review). This is to avoid stumbling onto scam sites or falling prey to dishonest companies. You want to be extra careful because you will be handing over your social security number, name, and address to verify your identity. As for those who have a ethical problem with signing up for a service with the expectation of canceling, you may wish to refrain. As for me, I have an interesting track record of taking advantage of great store return policies, so this is nothing new to me. Apart from the free myFICO credit score offers listed below, if you are interested in checking or tracking your FICO for the long term, I highly recommend that you utilize myFICO promo codes for maximized discount savings.

Here Are My Recommended Ways To Get Your FICO Credit Score For Free (Or At An Affordable Low Cost):

1. MyFICO Score Watch - Free 30 Day Trial Period (Equifax) - You may try to take advantage of MyFICO's free credit trial periods. The biggest advantage is that all credit scores you order from MyFICO are all genuine FICO's. With the 30 Day Free MyFICO Score Watch, you get an Equifax credit report and corresponding FICO score for $8.95 per month. There is a 30 day free trial available. If you forget to cancel within 30 days, there is an annual payment of $89.95. Don't forget!

2. MyFICO Quarterly Monitoring - $4.95 A Month (TransUnion) - If you've used up the above options, you may want to consider the MyFICO Quarterly Monitoring package. You can cancel after the first month, but for this one you'll have to pay the small monthly fee. With this package you get a TransUnion credit report and a genuine FICO score provided by TransUnion every 3 months. The cost is $4.95 a month, but if you cancel within the first month, your only cost is only $4.95. Still pretty affordable if you ask me. If you want quarterly tracking for a year, it's also available for one annual payment of $49.95.

3. TransUnion CS 3-In-1 Credit Report With FICO - $34.95 For One FICO Score From TransUnion and All 3 Reports (All 3 - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) - This offer provides you all three credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies, but it only provides you one FICO credit score from TransUnion. There is no trial period. As I'll explain later below, TransUnion Consumer Solutions offers genuine FICO scores, unlike its evil twin sibling, TransUnion.com.

4. MyFICO Standard Score and Report - $15.95 For One FICO and One Report (Choice Of One - Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) - With the FICO Standard product from MYFICO, you can choose an individual FICO credit score and credit report from one of the big three reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The above options are cheaper choices for Equifax and TransUnion but this option is the cheapest FICO option for Experian.

5. MyFICO Credit Complete - $47.85 For All 3 Credit Reports And All 3 FICO Credit Scores (All 3 - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) - If you want to know your complete credit status, you will need a service like MyFICO's Credit Complete. There is a one time $47.85 fee or an annual purchase subscription of $42.84 (you can always cancel to stop the automatic annual repurchase). Unfortunately there is no free offer, but this is the genuine FICO deal if you want your complete credit information from all three agencies. If you are looking to buy a house or something major, you may want to order this at least once.

6. Suze Orman's MyFICO Platinum Kit - $49.95 (Same Deal As MyFICO Credit Complete) - If you love financial guru Suze Orman and want to make her rich, you can always go with this option. Of course, keep in mind that this is the same as the MYFICO Credit Complete offer in that they both provide you 3 FICO credit scores and 3 credit reports from the major credit reporting agencies. The interesting catch is that Suze's Kit is slightly more expensive at $49.95. If you idolize her financial prowess and want to use her endorsed product, then go right ahead. However, I don't particularly recommend it over the other cheaper options. No offense, Suze.

Credit Score and Credit Report Programs To Avoid Like The Plague:

1. FreeCreditReport.Com - This site is the biggest advertiser on television for credit report services and it's also the most misleading. Calling it a complete credit scam may be a bit much, but its deceptive domain name certainly doesn't help its cause. Do not confuse this site with the official annual credit report site. The company does provide you 3 credit reports from all major credit reporting agencies, but it does not provide you a FICO credit score. The site offers its own proprietary PLUS score, not FICO. You should avoid FreeCreditReport.com, lest you end up with an unproven FAKO score that will do you little good when it comes time to compare the score to FICO based loan charts.

2. TransUnion.com - TransUnion does a wonderful job of confusing consumers. You should never order anything directly from TransUnion.com since they only provide you something called a TransRisk credit score, which is not the same as a FICO credit score. If you want your FICO score from TransUnion, you need to visit the sister site: Transunioncs.com, which stands for TransUnion Consumer Solutions, or you can always order your TransUnion scores via MyFICO. Why the company chose to make things so confusing for consumers is a wonderful question for which I haven't the foggiest clue.

3. TrueCredit.com - This site utilizes the TransRisk scoring system as well. While similar to the FICO, it is not the same.

4. PrivacyMatters.com - Yet another site that utilizes the TransUnion TransRisk credit score. Remember, if the site does not proudly advertise its scores as FICO, but merely refers to them as "credit scores", then it's not offering the real McCoy. If you want a genuine FICO, look elsewhere.

5. Experian.com - Experian offers a Triple Advantage 3-in-1 credit report and credit score product from its website, but you should avoid it. The score it provides you is its own PLUS credit score, and not the FICO score you want. You should also avoid any of its one time non subscription products as well. Back when all of the credit agencies and Fair Isaac played well together, consumers were able to obtain their 3 FICO scores from each of the 3 major credit report bureaus. However, major contractual disputes eventually led Experian to pull out of its long standing credit score arrangement with MyFICO. Thus while Equifax and TransUnion FICO scores are still presently available to credit score seekers, consumers can no longer get access to their Experian FICO scores directly from the MyFICO website at this time. There are still limited ways to get an Experian FICO score, but the methods aren't easy or widely available.

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84 Responses to “Fico Score|My FICO|Free Credit Scores|Free FICO Score” 

  1. Raymond says:

    Rebecca,

    I agree, this blog post is rather long winded...hehe...sorry I tend to write a lot. But I disagree that its contents are entirely useless.

    Nothing in this world is ever entirely free - and there is a usually a catch to most freebie type offers. Unfortunately, while free credit reports can be obtained for free via official government encouraged channels (annualcreditreport.com), your free credit score, or free FICO score cannot be obtained in the same manner. Credit scores are not free in the same sense that you are automatically entitled to receive them once a year the same way your annual credit reports are.

    There are ways to obtain your scores for free however, but they'll require you be willing to take advantage of contractual loopholes in various credit score monitoring promotional programs. Many credit score companies such as Equifax or MyFICO offer free trial periods for various credit monitoring products. So long as you sign up for the online products and cancel in time, you can indeed walk away with a genuinely free FICO credit score. The only catch is that you ABSOLUTELY MUST cancel in time within the required free trial period. Yes you must provide a working credit card number as a security down payment of sorts, but the credit card number is never charged if you cancel the trial offer in time. I've received multiple free FICO credit scores via this sign up/cancellation method and have never paid out a single cent for my scores.

    The places I plug, as you indicate, are the only legitimate offers out there who indeed provide free trial offers that can lead to free FICO scores.

  2. Ruth says:

    Hi,

    Thank you for the vast information. It was truly helpful. I have not check my credit in years and have found some discrepancies which I will now dispute.

    I do only have problem. I am not able to get my FICO score for Experian. Unfortunately, Experian has discontinued its agreement with myFico. Is there any other website or product site where I can get my FICO score for Experian (at a reasonable price)? Thanks for your help.

  3. Raymond says:

    Ruth,

    I did a write up of ways to get a Free Experian FICO score. As the mentioned blog article notes, Experian had a major falling out with the creator and owner of the FICO score formula. Thus, at the present time, Experian is no longer permitting its credit report data to be used for consumer FICO score generation purposes. However, pre-existing Experian FICO score agreements and contracts remain in effect, allowing a limited number of consumers today to still get access to their Experian FICO credit scores.

    One nearly guaranteed way to get your Experian FICO score is to obviously apply for a home mortgage. Business institutions and major bank lenders still get access to Experian FICO scores and are still able to pull the Experian FICO's for you. However, bear in mind, applying for a home mortgage constitutes a credit score harming hard credit check. Applying for a home mortgage just to get a peek at your Experian FICO score isn't the wisest option to take due to the negative credit score effect. The credit report and credit score hits aren't very significant, but it's still not a good idea to make it a common practice. However, it's probably one of the only few widely available options remaining today for Experian FICO seekers. Yes I know - this sucks.

  4. Brian in MA says:

    OK, so there is another credit card company offering a FREE monthy FICO credit report with no strings attached. It is from HSBC and it is called the Sears Solutions Card. You CANNOT apply for this card through HSBC, you have to walk into KMART or Sears and apply for the card.

    Here's the tricky part -If you have good or great credit, you will not get this card. Sears/KMART run your credit wtih a Citibank card first. If your credit is FAIR and you fail to get the Citibank Card, then they do a second chance application to HSBC.

    So bottom line is the only way to get this card would be if Citibank is going to turn you down. Then they will run you credit application though HSBC which is the card you want to get if you want free credit monitoring. Hope this helps! If someone can figure out a way for somebody with good credit to still get the HSBC card, please post because I can't get the card since my credit is fine.

  5. Raymond says:

    Brian in MA,

    I have heard about the HSBC Sears Solutions Card before, but the walk in application process seems rather bizarre. Get denied if you have excellent credit but approved if it's merely fair... That seems so uniquely odd IMO.

    I hope someone who has actually applied for the Sears Solution card and has actually gotten approved will shed some light on the matter. This credit card offer may be the next savior card for FICO credit score nuts like us now that the Washington Mutual free FICO card is gone. However, it will be good to get more information and real world commentary before we all go running to our nearest KMART or Sears store and start applying for this card offer.

  6. Brian in MA says:

    Raymond,

    My girlfriend has fair credit (score 650) and applied for the Sears card in April 2009. She received a Sears Solutions Card from HSBC. It is a MasterCard that you can use anywhere, but it has a Sears logo on it.

    When she registered the card, she was able to sign up for a monthly free FICO score (which she's been using and has watched her score go to 688). I was a Washington Mutual cardholder and was impressed that the same feature that we lost in May was available on this card... So guess where I went?? Sears of course!

    When I walked into Sears I asked the associate to apply for the card and when I looked at the application is had a Citibank logo on it, so I asked for the HSBC application. She told me the only way to get the HSBC Sears Solutions card was if Citibank turned me down.

    So I declined to sign up because I knew I would get approved for the Citibank card. I then decided to ask my girlfriend for the Customer Service number from her HSBC card and tried to apply directly to HSBC- but no dice!

    So the only thing at this point that I can think of doing is contacting Citibank and putting a "credit freeze" on my SSN# and walking into Sears and applying for this card.

    So does anyone know if it is possible to do this? Have a bank freeze credit acceptance on your SSN so you cannot get credit through that particular bank?

  7. Yars says:

    Raymond and Brian in MA,

    I'm going to look into getting this Sears Card From HSBC...ever since Washington Mutual went kaput and the ESPN Wamu card that offered free FICO credit scores disappeared with the acquisition by Chase Bank, I've been unable to find a comparable free credit score solution. But this Sears card looks interesting. But from the looks of things, it may be very difficult to apply and qualify for. Hopefuly, but not too optimistic on this....

    So far, I've been using myFICO's credit score watch program. The fee is pretty good and I really, really like the service. Best part is how they chart out FICO score changes over time and archives it for me to look back on in aggregate. It's a neat way to see how far you've come and how far you still have to go. It's interesting to see how repaying back your 0% balance transfer cards from one's app-o-rama days REALLY jacks up your FICO number.

  8. Mary says:

    Does anyone know of any bank or credit union other than this PSECU (Pennsylvania state credit union) that offers free FICO credit scores for customers? I'm not looking for a free credit monitoring service like myfico.com, but looking for a bank or credit union that offers customers FREE Credit Scores (specifically real free FICO scores) every month or continuously. If any one knows of any such banks, do you also know which credit rating agency the FICO credit scores are pulled from? - whether they be Equifax, Transunion, or Experian. Experian FICO scores are super rare right now for consumers and it would be great to know of any place that still offers Experian FICO's....especially for free. Much appreciated for anyone's help!

  9. Anne says:

    I too used to be a WaMu customer and Loved my free FICO credit score and hated that it is now gone. I wrote to my Elected officals today about this very topic. See the article below for more information if you're interested about how you can contact your elected officals to demand we get some satisfaction from Washington from them. We should know what the credit card companies know about us. Why should we have to pay to know what your scores are? That's alot of bull if you ask me and I told my Elected Officals so too. (view link to MSN Money Central article)

  10. Bianca says:

    Does anyone know if this 3 Free Triple Credit Score scam thing is actually a fraud or is it legitimate? I get conflicting replies when I ask around. Some say it's a scam and that they don't actually give you the real fico credit score. If they don't really give you a genuine fico score, then what the heck do they give out then and why hasn't the local state attorney general's office cracked down on these scams for false advertising?? Something seems fishy!

  11. Linda Braynard says:

    Since WAMU credit has now changed to Chase, I no longer get free FICO scores and I miss this very much!

    Linda

  12. Ryan says:

    This is a great site. I've referenced it for the past year when seeking out FICO sources. I stumbled upon the WAMU card by accident a while back and had to get my wife one once I found out that it was about the only truly free source of a FICO score, even if it's not completely accurate.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks to the author(s) here. When you get a chance, could you update the WAMU part of the article, since it no longer applies?

  13. Monica Turley says:

    The free FICO scores that WAMU offered was a great tool I used frequently. I was also very disappointed when they switched to Chase and it was no longer offered. Monitoring my FICO on WAMU was what got me into watching my money and credit tighter. I really miss this feature and wish some other card would offer it as a bonus!

  14. Patty says:

    I get my free ficos core through my credit union here in Pennsylvania. I think it's even an Experian fico which is supposedly in hot demand right now since they don't issue them publicly anymore. Getting your credit score from myfico's trial offers is a great idea though - a form of aggressive deal seeking. I like it!

  15. Richard A. Kraft says:

    Please inform me of any one offering totally free fico credit scores. Thanking You, I am:
    Richard A. Kraft
    855 W. Aldine Ave. - 1603
    Chicago, IL 60657-2370
    richardakraft@sbcglobal.net

  16. Ric Lee says:

    I MISS WAMU!!! Free FICO scores! Now CHASE discontinued the service.

    I HATE THE CREDIT REPORTING SYSTEM!!! WHY AM I PAYING FOR MY OWN INFORMATION!!! AND WHY SO COSTLY?!!

  17. Gretchen Rae says:

    So what is a good credit score? I have a 710 FICO credit score. Is that considered a good credit score for credit card application and even home mortgage application purposes? I'm not just talking about mere approval...but qualifying for the prime top interest rates for loans. I've heard that due to the economy and the way the financial markets are now...it's harder than before to qualify for anything to do with credit. In the olden days you could count on a 700's FICO score to take you places...but nowadays, you almost need a high 700's or even in the 800's for the best rates.

  18. Helen Levasseur says:

    When I last checked my FICO it was in January this year(2009). At that point it was 828 and that was done thru WAMU.They have not offered these free credit reports nor a free FICO score. What do you suggest for me ? I got tied into one of those "offers" through one of the reporting agencies and I'll bet it took me 6 months to get rid of them regardless of how many times I told them to STOP! And of course they continued to charge all the while. Getting away from them is much like cancelling AOL@. And Verizon is just like AOL! I would rather pay someone $15 and get it over with than having to put up with one of these companies. Is there any way to do this? Thanks,
    Helen

  19. Helen Levasseur says:

    Oops forgot something - - -WAMU discontinued this service March 1,2009

  20. Bob says:

    WAMU used to offer it for free but since they switched to Chase, it's $7.95 a month. I hate Chase.

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