The world of credit scoring is, by nature, an ever-evolving one. FICO scores were first introduced to lenders in the United States nearly 30 years ago, in 1989. A little over a decade ago, in 2006, the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) themselves – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – created the VantageScore credit score.
FICO and VantageScore represent the two most common brands of credit scoring systems. Each brand has numerous generations of their credit scoring models (think 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc.). When it comes to FICO, in particular, there are also a number of credit score variants such as mortgage scores, auto scores, and bankcard scores. Between all of the different FICO and VantageScore scoring models, you have several dozen different credit scores commercially available.
Of course, the number of credit scoring models that are commercially available isn’t the only thing that’s evolved in the world of credit scoring. There has also been a major shift over the past three decades in the availability of credit scores to you, the consumer.
A Chronology of Credit Score Availability
There was a time just a few decades ago, around 1991, when FICO branded credit scores became available at all three credit bureaus. At that time, the only people who purchased credit scores were those who worked at banks and other financial institutions. Then, in the mid-1990s, the usage of credit scores grew again when both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac endorsed the use of FICO scores for evaluating residential mortgage applications.
By 2001, FICO scores became more readily available to consumers themselves with the launch of myFICO.com, FICO’s consumer division. However, although myFICO.com did provide consumers with an avenue to access their FICO scores, they weren’t given away for free — they were fee based.
And for many years, the fee-based options for credit scores increased in number. More recently, however, the trend has been toward more accessibility for consumers. In fact, there are many places where you can now access your credit scores completely free. So, credit score availability has come full circle, from a product available only for lenders to a fee-based product sold to consumers to a free product given to consumers under certain conditions.
Where to Get Your Free Credit Score
There are a number of places where you can get your credit scores at no cost. Here are a few of the more common options.
Your credit card issuer: FICO’s Open Access program, launched in 2013, allows credit card issuers to share the FICO scores they use for credit decisions and risk management purposes directly with their customers. According to FICO, more than 100 financial institutions currently participate in the program.
If your card issuer is among them — including Discover, Barclaycard, Citi, and Bank of America – then you may be able to access your free FICO credit score from at least one of the three credit bureaus, as often as once per month. Other credit card issuers, including Chase and Capital One, offer cardholders their free VantageScore credit score.
CreditKarma: One of the most popular websites in the consumer space where you can access free credit scores is Credit Karma. On their website, you can currently access your credit reports and scores (VantageScore 3.0) from TransUnion and Equifax, completely free of charge. (Experian reports and scores are not available, however.) Credit Karma gives away free scores in exchange for the opportunity to advertise offers from a variety of financial partners to their registered users. There are several other similar websites — commonly referred to as “freemium” sites — that will give away credit scores to their registered users, while offering add-on purchases.
Mortgage applications: When you apply for a mortgage loan, you have the right to see all the credit scores the mortgage lender saw. This is called a Credit Score Disclosure notice. And, if you’re denied credit by a mortgage lender or any other lender, then you’re entitled to what’s called a Notice of Adverse Action, or informally, a denial letter. Denial letters now must include the actual score that was used by the lender as the basis for their denial.
So while it’s still possible to purchase your credit score, it’s getting less and less necessary to do so – and that’s good news for consumers.