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How to get free (sort of) credit scores

Three services offer a glimpse of your credit record.

By Teresa Mears Oct 12, 2009 3:02PM

Since 2005, we’ve all been able to get a free credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) once a year. But those reports don’t include the numerical score, often called a FICO score. For those, you have to pay extra, usually about $8 from each bureau.

 

Three services are now offering free credit scores, or something close to them, The Wall Street Journal’s Cranky Consumer column reports. WSJ writer Jane J. Kim ordered her scores from all three services, paid for her real credit scores and put together a detailed report on her results.

 

She found that the information she received from the free sites matched the information in her real credit reports. The scores were not the same. But, she said, the scores were in the same tier as her real credit scores, providing a good indication of how lenders would view her credit.

 

The three services are:

  • Credit.com: This service doesn’t provide a credit report. It estimates, within a 100-point range, what your score would be using five major credit-scoring models. You can get an updated score once a month for free.
  • Quizzle.com: This site offers a real free credit report, from Experian, and gives you a mechanism to challenge any errors. Quizzle also offers some tools to evaluating mortgages and keeping up with your home value.
  • CreditKarma.com: CreditKarma.com gives you a copy of your TransUnion score, rates your creditworthiness in seven categories, plus tells you how important each category is. You can get your score for free any time here.

Kim noted that all three sites have ties to the credit industry and all make their money through advertising or additional services offered by the sites and their partners. Quizzle, for example, charges users $75 for four months of personal advice on how to improve their credit scores.

We thought we’d try the three sites ourselves.

 

Credit.com, rather than offering a numerical score, offered a letter grade and an estimated range of our score from five sources, including the three credit bureaus. Credit.com was happy with all our credit usage categories except for “Account Mix,” where it gave us a C-minus. We found this perplexing, because it listed our seven mortgages (in a lifetime, not all at once), then suggested that if we ever got a mortgage, this category would improve.

 

Quizzle.com offered us our Experian credit report, with a numerical score, plus a depressing (and probably accurate) calculation of our current home value and even calculated our debt-to-income ratio.

 

CreditKarma gave us a simplified version of our TransUnion report, plus our score. It rated our “Credit Accounts” only a B, but didn’t indicate whether we had too many, too few or a less than optimal mix. It also provides a Credit Simulator feature, where you can test the impact on your credit of such events as getting a new credit card, going into foreclosure or having one of your accounts go into collection. We were surprised, and a bit skeptical, to be told that foreclosure or a collection would not lower our score significantly.

 

We agree with Kim that the free sites don’t offer nearly the detail of the reports you can get once a year for free from each of the three bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. But they do provide a worthwhile look at your credit at an unbeatable price.

 

Related reading:

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