It’s always beneficial to have a general idea of where your credit stands, but there are specific times when you should check your credit. You’ll want to know exactly what your score is before you apply for new credit, apply for certain jobs, and sign a lease on a home or apartment.
Your credit score affects whether or not you’ll be approved for new credit and at what interest rate. It can also affect your ability to get a job or a promotion. Landlords typically check your credit score before they agree to rent to you. In general, it’s also good practice to request a free copy of your credit report and score every year.
What is a credit score?
Your credit score is a number that tells a lender how likely you are to pay credit back on time and it’s based on your credit history. Scores range from 300 to 850. Lower scores mean a higher risk for the lender. A history of late payments or accounts in default cause your score to go down, which makes it more difficult for you to secure new lines of credit.
Each person can have multiple scores depending on the scoring formula that the lender uses. The two most common credit scores are FICO and VantageScore. Both use the same basic criteria in their scoring formulas; they include payment history, length of credit, type of credit, credit usage, and recent inquiries.
How can I check my credit score?
There are a number of ways to check your credit score. You can buy your score from the credit reporting companies, like FICO, but there are free options as well.
Many credit cards or loan agreements have started to include credit scores in monthly statements. Check your online account to see if your score is included. A credit counselor may also be able to give you your score.
There are a number of websites that offer free credit scores, but be sure to read the fine print before you sign up. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says:
“Many services and websites advertise a “free credit score.” Some sites may be funded through advertising and not charge a fee. Other sites may require that you sign up for a credit monitoring service with a monthly subscription fee in order to get your “free” score. These services are often advertised as “free” trials, but if you don’t cancel within the specified period (often as short as one week), you could be on the hook for a monthly fee. Before you sign up to try one of these services, be sure you know what you are signing up for and how much it really costs.”
Checking your score will help you prepare for financial decisions. Be sure to check your credit report regularly as well for more detailed information about your credit history.