If you have been reading this site recently, you know that we are looking into buying a vacation/retirement home. When buying a home, having good credit can save you thousands on mortgage rates. The problem is that most people don't know exactly where they stand with their credit. I knew I had good credit, but I didn't know if I'd qualify for the best mortgage rates. This is where getting a credit score comes in extremely handy as this is what is used to determine the rates.
Credit Scores Everywhere!
It turns out that credit scores are not simple things. There are three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The information from them go through a formula and out comes a credit score. The most famous formula is the FICO one developed by Fair Isaac and Co. However, each of the credit bureaus have their own score. To complicate matters further, FICO has created a little-used NextGen Score and the three credit bureaus have combined to create a VantageScore. Got all that ;-)? I'm just scratching the surface too. How those formulas work are not exactly transparent.
Getting a FICO Credit Score
Getting a truly free, no-strings attached, credit score is difficult (some would say impossible) these days. As part of my mortgage pre-approval process through USAA, I got a FICO score. It is what is known as a hard pull - which in short means that it will impact my credit score. (How about that for an observer effect?) For more information see hard pull vs. soft pull.
I actually got three FICO scores - one for each credit reporting bureau. I was pretty happy with the 808, 808, 819, on Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion respectively. I also got a little information about the things that adversely impact my credit score. Seems like Experian thinks the amount owned on my accounts is too high. The others didn't cite this.
Getting Free Credit Scores
The next best thing to a FICO score (in my opinion) is the credit bureaus scores. You can get these for free by going to Go Free Credit. I gave it a try and thought I'd share my results so you can get an idea for what you can expect as well as how much it differs from my FICO scores:
As you can see the numbers went down quite a bit. According to this, I still have a little work to do on my credit. I found it worthwhile to get this report, even though most lenders will use the FICO scores.
I should not that if you get a free score from Go Free Credit as I did, you must agree to sign up for a credit monitoring service at $19.99 a month. This service is free for the first 7 days, so if you decide that you don't want it, you can cancel it right away costing you nothing. The end result is a truly free credit score from the main credit bureaus.
You may also look to get free credit scores from other sources:
- Credit Karma - Credit Karma uses the TransUnion credit report and their own formula to create a credit score. They also provide you with the VantageScore, the score that is a combined measure from all three bureaus. For more information, see my Credit Karma Review. Like Credit Sesame, it's free to sign up (there's nothing to cancel and you never need to enter a credit card).
- Credit Sesame - Credit Sesame give you a Experian credit score, so in theory it should match the one from Go Free Credit. There's actually a big difference in mine as Credit Sesame has me with a 817 credit score (see my Credit Sesame Review for more information.) I'll be placing an inquiry into the services to find out what's up with that. It's free to sign up (there's nothing to cancel and you never need to enter a credit card).
Need more? Check out Cafe Credit for a full comparison of free credit score websites in the United States.
What to do with Your Free Credit Score
A number isn't very useful if you don't know how good it is. Once you have your credit score, go see "What is a Good Credit Score?" to find out how you did.
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Next: Buying a Vacation/Retirement Home (Part 4)