FICO is the most widely recognized credit score of choice with most lenders today. However, as with most successful products, it has generated a fair number of competitors that offer similar services. Most lenders still use FICO, so this is the primary one you need to know before applying for credit for major purchases, like a home, automobile, or attempting to refinance or restructure existing loans for more favorable interest rates.
Some lenders may use alternative scoring services. Fortunately, most of them follow the same general approach to credit scoring, so scores will not vary by all that much. Differences will likely be the weight given to different score components and the algorithm used to generate the final score.
Credit Score Components
Your FICO credit score includes multiple components that paint a picture of the level of risk you represent to creditors. These components include:
- Payment history. Your history of payments for utility bills, student loans, credit cards, and other bills that report to major credit reporting agencies.
- Credit utilization. That is the total amount of debt you owe on all your credit balances compared to the amount of credit available to you. Your goal should be to keep your balances low on credit cards whenever possible.
- Years of credit. Older accounts carry more weight, from a credit perspective than newer accounts. If you are consolidating or eliminating debt by closing accounts, consider closing newer accounts first.
- New credit. When you go on a “spree” of applying for new credit, many lenders view this as a red flag that you are preparing for a spending binge that might leave them burned. Be judicious in credit applications.
- Types of credit. That includes things like credit cards, student loans, auto loans or mortgages. Lenders like to see a healthy mix with mortgages or student loans (loans that they consider 'good debt') at the top of the heap. Then revolving debts, like credit cards, and auto loans at the lower end.
Higher FICO scores translate to lower interest rates for you. These components determine your credit score.
Credit Reporting Services
The good news is that there are a plethora of services available that provide credit reports. Many of them offer services for free. Be aware that many of them might not be offering true FICO scores, but rather a scoring approach unique to them. To get an actual FICO credit score, you should consider one of the following organizations:
- My Fico
Credit reporting agencies TransUnion and Equifax both provide credit scoring services, however they are not FICO scores. TransUnion offers its own VantageScore service, while Equifax offers Credit Score. One key to keep in mind is that while you can get credit reports for free from a number of sources, you will likely have to pay for your FICO score.
Credit Card Company Offers
With the availability of alternative credit scoring services, many lenders that offer credit cards, or banks and credit unions, have begun to provide their customers with free credit score tracking services. While these might not be the FICO branded scores, they likely will give you a similar insight into your current credit position.
Subscribing to a free offering such as this will allow you to track your credit score more efficiently. You can usually find out through your online account management portal whether your bank, credit union or credit card company is offering such a service.
Free Tracking Services
While not exactly FICO scores, the following companies provide free credit tracking that can be highly useful in notifying you of potential problems or misinformation on your credit reports. Some of the top contenders include:
- Credit Karma
- Credit Sesame
Keeping up with your FICO score doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg or take up all your time and attention. With the right tools, you can have access to vital information about your FICO score and stay on top of your credit situation.