Credit checks aren’t just important when you’re considering opening a new credit card. You may also want to check your credit score if you’re in the market for a new home or vehicle, or to make sure your identity hasn’t been stolen. Note that looking into your credit score will not affect your credit.
If you haven’t checked your credit score lately, start with a well-known company like Experian and Credit Karma (full list below). There are several that offer a range of services at different price points, including a free online check and free 30-day trial. Keep in mind that some companies require your credit card information, but they typically provide additional services, like insurance against identity theft and flagging suspicious use of your Social Security number.
So how does a credit score work? Everyone starts out with a FICO score, which is your creditworthiness number that can range from 300 to 850. The higher the number, the better. Some factors that affect your FICO score include “hard inquiries” like applying for credit (your credit is under review); “derogatory marks” like paying a bill late (these can keep your score down); and how much of your total credit you’re using (the less you use, the better). You get a FICO score from the three major US credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Here’s how these services break down.
Says it will address fraud if your identity or personal information is stolen
Shows your FICO scores for all three bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax)
Monitors your credit
Experian (or download the app for iOS or Android) is one of the major credit monitoring services that offers your FICO scores for the three bureaus. Experian can help you boost your FICO score by using utility bills that you’re already paying to apply to your credit. Your new credit scores will immediately take effect.
The company monitors identity theft and conducts daily scans of dark web pages to detect if your information has been stolen. If anything is detected, Experian says its support team will help.
$25 per month
Includes free identity protection
Unlimited score and report access
Credit Lock Plus
Up to $1,000,000 in ID theft insurance
Also among the top three major credit monitoring services is TransUnion (or download the app for iOS or Android). With TransUnion, you can check your credit score report as often as you’d like to see if your score has changed.
Identity protection is included through Javelin, an identity protection service provider. Your monthly fee includes credit monitoring, instant alerts if someone applies for credit in your name and up to $1,000,000 in ID theft insurance. TransUnion Credit Lock is a service that keeps your credit profile on lockdown until you unseal it. For example, if a criminal applies for credit in your name, the lock will prevent them from stealing your credit information.
If you’re feeling forgiving, Equifax’s services are on par with competitors. It provides a copy of your Equifax credit report and monitors your credit and Social Security numbers by scanning websites where consumer information has been sold. Equifax also sends alerts about suspicious activities, like someone applying for credit in your name on the other side of the country.
Shows credit factors and how they affect your score
Credit Karma (or download the app for iOS or Android) is a personal finance company. You can use it to check your credit scores as often as you’d like for free. You can also access your credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax, but not from Experian. Credit Karma monitors your credit and sends weekly updates, and will notify you if there’s any change to your credit score.
The site also shows you your score and credit factors that affect your score, like if you’re using too much of your credit card limit, derogatory marks and hard inquiries.
Check your credit score for free
All personal information is encrypted
Mint (or download the app for iOS or Android) is a free service for managing your personal finances. In addition to tracking your payments, you can use it to find out where your credit score is lacking, like not having a long credit history, and where it’s doing great, like paying bills on time. Mint shows you your on-time payments, credit usage (so you can see if you’re reaching your limit) and average age of credit on one screen.
After you verify your identity, Mint will send your credit report summary and credit monitoring alerts if your score goes up or down.
Check your Experian credit score
Score information updates every 30 days
Monitor credit usage, hard inquiries and late payments
FreeCreditReport.com is a pared-down service provided by Experian to access your credit report for free. The company provides you with an updated credit report every 30 days. You’ll have access to your account history, like real estate and credit accounts. FreeCreditReport.com shows you hard inquiries on your account, tracks your credit usage and shows any potential marks against you, like late payments.
Mix and match services may help cover more ground
When it comes to checking your credit, there are a lot of ways to go. You can select one service, or pair free services together to access your FICO score from all three major bureaus.
However, if you go that route, keep in mind that you won’t have the promised credit protection and monitoring that Experian, TransUnion and Equifax offer.