It’s about time I checked my FICO credit score ( rather multiple credit scores ) - been 6 months since I applied for a couple of 0% APR (balance transfers) cards and transferred large balances from the cards to my HSBC Direct account. Now, I want to see if things have gone haywire (or not) after the balance transfers (this will help me plan my future credit card arbitrage moves). Trying to find the best deal for your credit score is really a pain if you don’t know where to look - this led me towards doing some research on the subject, the results of which are described below.
I have compiled all the information I could find and added some recommendations towards the end to highlight the best ways of getting your credit score for cheap (I wanted to use a ranking system…but that might mean comparing apples and oranges, because some of these products are conceptually different than the others). If you know of any other reliable sources of obtaining credit scores for cheap, please feel free to share the information.
Before I get into the details, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Experian does not offer FICO scores through it’s website and TransUnion offers an in-house *TransUnion* score (not a FICO score) with some of it’s programs. So don’t just rush into buying any score that first comes to your attention…read and understand what it means.
I don’t know why they are making it so complicated for the common man. Between the three credit rating agencies, you can get 6 different credit scores (3 different FICO scores for 3 agencies, TransUnion score, Experian Plus score, and VantageScore). Thank god there is just one VantageScore, not three different ones for the three agencies.
To add to the confusion, each credit rating agency and myFICO.com sell different types of products with different types of scores and it really takes a while to figure out what product is using what score. The list below will make the process simpler for some of you…it includes all credit score products available through the three agencies and through myFICO.com. If there are more out there, I will update this list accordingly.
Also, just to be clear, I am talking only about credit scores…not credit reports (you can get free credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.com). My main objective is to find ways to get the score for less money …irrespective of whether it comes with a credit report or not. Another thing, there are no referral links in here…all links for your information purposes only.
Credit scores from TransUnion [Updated: March 27th, 2007]
TransUnion is the master of confusion when it comes to credit scores. It has two different websites www.transunion.com and www.transunioncs.com. On transunion.com (which takes you to truecredit.com for your scores), all scores available are ONLY TransRisk scores (not FICO scores)…which are some in-house scores generated by TransUnion. I was not aware of this before one of the readers made a comment regarding this issue.
I had to call TransUnion in order to figure out where I could get my FICO scores and then they mentioned www.transunioncs.com. I have no idea why TransUnion is doing this two-websites thing….and why there is no mention or link to the FICO scores website on their main website.
Anyways, here is what TransUnion offers on it’s www.transunion.com website (pretty much useless scores):
- TransUnion offers a 30-day free trial of the TransUnion Credit Monitoring program. This program will give you access to your TransUnion credit report and your Trans-Risk credit score based on the credit report. The potential cost of laziness (if you don’t cancel within your trial period) is $9.95 per month. This is not a FICO score.
- It also offers a 3-Bureau Credit Monitoring program for $14.95 per month. No free-trial offer. This thing provides all three credit reports and all three Trans-Risk scores. This is not a FICO score.
- Watch out for this “3-in-1 Credit Report and Free Score” one-time purchase offer from TransUnion for $29.95. This is a different offer than the two above and it provides a *TransUnion* credit score….not a FICO score.
Here are the FICO score offers from TransUnion’s www.transunioncs.com (transunioncs stands for TransUnion Consumer Solutions) website:
- TransUnionCS offers Single Credit Report + FICO score. A one time TransUnion credit report and score for $14.95. There is no trial period.
- It also offers 3-in-1 Credit Report plus FREE FICO Score. This program offers three credit reports but only one credit score…and that is based on TransUnion credit report. The one-time cost is $34.95. No trial period.
- There is also a credit monitoring product available through this website. This product provides you with your TransUnion credit report and FICO score 4 times a year at the cost of $19.95 per quarter($79.8 per year). No trial period.
Credit scores from Experian
- Experian offers a 30-day free trial of the Triple Advantage program, through which you can get all 3 credit reports and Experian Plus Score. Note that the Plus score offered by Experian is not your FICO score. Plus and FICO are similar scoring systems but not the same. Personally, I only care about the FICO scores…so this doesn’t sound attractive to me. Potential cost of laziness (if you don’t cancel within your trial period) is $12.95 per month. (annual cost: $155.4)
- A one-time, non-subscription purchase of Experian credit report and score will cost you $15.
- Experian also offers credit scores calculated using a new credit rating called VantageScore for $5.95. Again, as in the case of the Plus score, this score has nothing to do with your FICO score and hence, doesn’t impress me.
Credit scores from Equifax
- Equifax offers the Score Watch program through which you can get your FICO scores based on Equifax credit report. Monthly subscription cost is $8.95 and there is no free trial offer. (annual cost: $107.4)
- Equifax also offers a non-subscription (one time purchase) program called Score Power for $15.95. With this you will get your Equifax credit report and your FICO score based on that report.
Other sources of credit scores
There are a multitude of third-party credit score providers that go through one of the above agencies to obtain your credit score. Personally, I would not punch in my all my personal information on such third party websites. Apart from the risk of having your identity stolen (or misused), there is also a risk of finding yourself signed up for a ton of trashy snail-mail and junk email if you go through some arbitrary credit score information provider. If you insist on using such websites, make sure you comb through the privacy statements and opt out of any optional services that they might stick to your application.
- The only exception to this rule is AnnualCreditReport.com on which you can get a credit score for $7.95 with your once-a-year free credit report from each credit rating agency (I need to verify this in a better way). AnnualCreditReport.com does not offer credit score as it’s own product…ultimately it’s offered through the individual credit agency.
Credit scores directly from myFICO
- myFICOÂ® Identity Theft Security Deluxe: this one gives TransUnion credit report and the corresponding FICO score at $4.95 per month. No free-trial offer. (available for 1 annual payment of $49.95)
- Score Watch: provides Equifax credit report and corresponding FICO score for $8.95 per month. 30-day free trial is available with potential cost of laziness at $89.95.
- FICO standard: just gives a one-time score and credit report for any of the three credit rating agencies for $15.95 each. This is an incredibly bad deal…just stay away from this one.
- FICO Deluxe: All three credit reports and credit scores with a one-time purchase for $47.85.
- Suze Orman’s FICO kit: Suze Orman’s advice and all three credit reports and credit scores with a one-time purchase for $49.95. I don’t know why myFICO has special love for Suze Orman. But, it is noted that the product above (FICO Deluxe) has everything except the Suze Orman advice and it just costs $2.1 less than this Orman-endorsing product. I wonder if Orman’s advice is not much worth than $2.1 then, is it? I won’t recommend this.
Some recommendations on purchasing credit scores for cheap
[Updated March 27th, 2007: according to TransUnion, it does not provide *FICO* scores on www.transunion.com. When I called them up to ask about checking my FICO scores, they directed me to www.transunioncs.com. The following information has been updated to reflect the change]
Based on the above information, it is clear that the cheapest way to get your credit scores is by signing up for free trials and cancelling them before the trial period expires (some people may have ethical issues here and I understand that). If you are just looking at scores for one-time comparison purposes, here are my top recommendations:
- If you want a score based on Equifax credit report, the best option is available on myFICO website through the Score Watch program. Free trial for 30 days. If you forget to cancel, it’s $8.95 per month.
- If you have exhausted the free trial offers in the past, your next best bet is myFICOÂ® Identity Theft Security Deluxe through myFICO website for getting a TransUnion credit report and score. Cancelling within a month will cost you just $4.95.
- If you want to look at all three credit scores and reports just once using a single product, your best choice is FICO Deluxe through myFICO website. It will cost you $47.85. Alternatively, you could buy individual credit scores from myFICO website for Equifax ( Score Watch , $0 free trial - cancel within one month), TransUnion (myFICOÂ® Identity Theft Security Deluxe, $4.95 - cancel within one month), and Experian (FICO Standard, $15.95)…this way all three credit scores will cost you only $20.9. Just remember to cancel them during the trial period.
- Stay away from Experian’s website unless you want the Plus score or the VantageScore.
- Stay away from TransUnion’s www.transunion.com website. FICO scores are only available on www.transunioncs.com.
If you are looking for year-round continuous monitoring, then go for this:
- myFICOÂ® Identity Theft Security Deluxe ($49.95 per year, no free trial) for TransUnion credit report and score. A better option is to purchase the plan and then cancel within a month. That will cost you just $4.95 per month. Doing this every three months will cost you just $19.8 per year……and quarterly monitoring is sufficiently *continuous* for credit scores, in my opinion.
Update: Free credit score offer suggested by a reader
An avid reader of this blog, Gaming the Credit System, mentioned a credit card offer from Washington Mutual that comes with free online acces to credit score. In case you find the card attractive, the free score is an additional incentive. Thanks GCS.
Most credit scores will come in a combination of score+ credit report, so don’t go about buying a separate report if you are ordering a score.That’s all for now, good luck with your next credit score purchase. I think by now you fully understand why this stuff may be really confusing to some people. If you have something more to add, just drop a line and I will include it.
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