Until now, it’s been a nearly unknowable number, more revealing than your (real) waist size, more influential than the GDP growth rate, and more closely guarded than the combination to Fort Knox or the measurements of any random Kardashian.
I am speaking, of course, about your credit score.
That’s the magical number lenders use to rate your creditworthiness. It also stands in for your general trustworthiness, influencing your ability to rent an apartment, land a job and even what you’ll pay for insurance. Now those mysterious digits are getting dragged into the open, letting you see whether you rate the top score of 850 (“Boy Scout”) or the lowest of 300 (“drummer”).
How to score a free score
“We decided the secret black-box, three-digit number, which is all about you and your credit data, should be available,” says Todd Albery, CEO of Quizzle.com, one of several services offering scores.
Quizzle is an off-shoot of Quicken Loans, headquartered here in Detroit, and offers a suite of tools to show how your financial activities influence your score, and how you can improve it. Quizzle offers the VantageScore 3.0, which draws from all three major credit bureaus and runs from 300-850.
Then there’s Credit.com, which offers a score from the Experian credit bureau, as well as VantageScore 3.0. The site helps you decipher it and provides other credit resources. Credit.com can create an action plan to boost your credit, and offers monthly updates and alerts.
CreditKarma.com offers the TransRisk score from credit bureau TransUnion, which runs from 100 to 900. It also grades your credit in five categories, shows how your score compares with other CreditKarma users, and has a simulator to show how changes to your finances will hurt or help your score.
A number of credit cards also offer free scores, including Discover, Capital One, First Bankcard, Barclaycard and the Wal-Mart Credit Card. The Equifax credit bureau also offers your Equifax Risk Score, which goes from 280 to 850, but isn’t widely used by lenders.
Finagling for FICO
One thing these sites don’t offer is the gold-standard FICO credit score, although the credit cards do give you a type of FICO score used by issuers of plastic. You can purchase your FICO score at
MyFICO.com, but if you look good on one of the others, you’re likely to be fine on FICO, too. There’s a free FICO score estimator at Bankrate.com and other websites. Recent college grads can grab a free FICO score from the financing arm for Hyundai and Kia cars, Hyundai Capital America, and the student loan servicer Sallie Mae will give FICO scores to borrowers for the 2014-15 school year.
Once you get a good credit score, don’t use it as an excuse to go on a spending spree. For that, you’ll need to ferret out another set of magic numbers — the ones on a winning lottery ticket.
Brian O’Connor is author of the award-winning book, “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”