It used to be difficult to get your hands on your credit score. But now you almost can't avoid it.
I get emails every month from my bank and from credit card issuers letting me know I can see my free credit score online. Some of these are educational scores, but others are free FICO scores, which is the credit score used by 90% of lenders.
The focus on credit scores -- most especially, free ones -- might influence how many people now check their scores. A survey by the Consumer Federation of America shows that 57% of consumers checked at least one credit score in 2018.
How Credit Monitoring Services Differ From Credit Score Apps
It's easy to confuse credit monitoring services and credit score apps. A credit monitoring service focuses on protecting you from fraud. Some of these credit monitoring services are free, but many offer premium services that increase your degree of protection from fraud and identity theft for a monthly fee.
Unless there's a pressing need in your life -- such as a rocky divorce or a previous experience with identity theft -- it's unlikely to be worth the cost. You can also monitor your online bank and credit card accounts on your own.
Credit score apps give you access to your credit score. Since many of us are fairly addicted to our smartphones (raising my hand), why not use a credit score app to get score updates? It's convenient, and in many cases, you get much more than just your score.
So let's take a look at these free apps for your credit score:
-- Mint: Budget, Bills & FInance Tracker.
-- Discover Credit Scorecard.
-- CreditWise from Capital One.
-- MyCredit Guide from American Express.
-- Experian CreditWorks Basic.
All of these apps work on both Android and iOS. So, just take your time and decide which app feels the most comfortable to you.
[Read: Best 0% APR Credit Cards.]
Mint: Budget, Bills & Finance Tracker
This is a free online money management tool that's been around since 2006. In 2009, Mint was acquired by Intuit, so that's why you often see the two names together.
Mint has an easy-to-use app that includes a credit score as well as options for creating budgets and setting goals. Seeing the big picture can help you make better money decisions. It's great to see your score, but it's also useful to see why your score might be low. The Mint app shows the factors involved, such as credit usage, and gives you a rating. For example, if you have a credit usage under 10% of your available credit, you'd likely get an "excellent" rating for that factor.
Best feature: You can view your budget, credit card and bank account balances, financial goals, and credit score all in one place. This app is the personal finance version of one-stop shopping. If you're looking for one app that gives you just about everything you need, Mint is a good option.
Credit score version: Mint offers a VantageScore 3.0 based on information in your TransUnion credit report. Your score is updated every seven days. Getting a FICO score would be optimal, but it's still a good way to evaluate your overall credit health. And feel free to mix things up a little. I use Mint for managing my money, but I also get a free FICO score from one of my credit card issuers.
Discover Credit Scorecard
You don't have to be a Discover cardholder to use Credit Scorecard. As with many apps, you also get data about how the different factors are affecting your score -- for example, your credit utilization, new accounts and so on. It also shows what might be hurting your score, such as multiple inquiries or missed payments.
Best feature: Discover offers a monthly FICO score based on your credit file with Experian. Keep in mind that both FICO and educational credit scores change often throughout the month. When your credit report gets updated, the FICO score will take the new data into consideration. So that's why your FICO score is always subject to change.
Discover will also monitor your Social Security number and let you know if it's found on, for example, a risky website, including on the dark web. This feature is an excellent benefit, especially if you're worried about identity theft.
Credit score version: You'll get a monthly FICO Score 8, and the score is based on information from your TransUnion credit report.
CreditWise from Capital One
You don't have to be a Capital One cardholder to use this tool. But if you're a cardholder, you can log into CreditWise using your existing account information. CreditWise offers weekly updates of your credit score and credit report.
Capital One also offers free credit monitoring, and you don't have to be a cardholder to take advantage of that feature, either. So if you're in a situation where you'd like to monitor your credit score and credit report frequently, this app has your back.
Best feature: The app has a simulator that allows you to see how your money decisions affect your credit score. While this isn't an exact science, it can give you a general idea of what might happen if you go, for instance, on a spending spree with your credit cards and increase your utilization ratio.
Credit score version: You can get a weekly VantageScore 3.0 credit score that's based on information in your TransUnion credit report. Again, this isn't optimum since it isn't a FICO score, but it's still useful for an overview of your credit life.
MyCredit Guide from American Express
You're looking at data on a mobile-optimized website, so this isn't technically an app. But just consider it another free way to check your credit score via your smartphone.
You can enroll in MyCredit Guide even if you aren't an American Express cardholder. You get a variety of useful information, including email alerts when critical changes occur in your TransUnion credit report.
Best feature: You're automatically enrolled in a full set of alerts that will let you know about events that impact your TransUnion credit report. For instance, if a new account is opened in your name, you'll get an alert. It's like having an extra pair of eyes that's on the lookout for fraud.
Credit score version: You'll get a weekly VantageScore 3.0 that is based on the information in your TransUnion credit file. Plus, there's a score simulator that shows you how your money decisions impact your credit score.
Experian CreditWorks Basic
Experian offers a free version, CreditWorks Basic, that allows you to see your Experian credit report and FICO score once per month. If you feel you need a complete package that includes credit monitoring, Experian has a CreditWorks Premium version that might appeal to you.
Best feature: It's awesome that you get access to a FICO score with this app. You can get more features with the premium version, but for keeping tabs on your FICO score, the free version is enough.
Credit score version: You have monthly access to your FICO Score 8. The score is based on information in your Experian credit report.
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More Options for Getting Your Free Credit Score
You might decide you need one of the paid versions to stay on top of things, but if a free version does the trick for you, then all the better. And before you sign up for a premium version with a monthly fee, consider thinking outside of the app box.
Most credit card issuers now offer free scores with your monthly statement. Some of these are FICO scores, and some are educational scores. These credit card companies are among those sharing free FICO scores:
-- Bank of America: FICO score.
-- Barclays: FICO.
-- Citi: FICO score.
-- Wells Fargo: FICO Score.
Many other issuers and banks, such as Chase, offer free VantageScores. And as I've already pointed out, these aren't as relevant as your FICO score, but you still get an idea of where your credit health stands. Also, check out the institution where you do your everyday banking. A lot of banks offer apps and free credit scores to their customers.
Does Checking Your Credit Score Hurt It?
If you're worried that checking your credit score will make your credit score drop, you can relax. Checking your credit score (or your credit report) does not lower your score.
Keeping track of your score helps you set credit goals. When your FICO score hits 760, you're more likely to qualify for the best interest rates on mortgages, personal loans and credit cards. An excellent credit score takes time to build, which means you can't wait until you're ready to apply for a mortgage to start caring about it.
So whip out your phone -- if it isn't already in your hand -- and check your free credit score to see where you stand. It's never been easier to monitor your credit goals.