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How Do I Get My Credit Score For Free?

Sean Bryant5-minute read
September 21, 2020

Your credit score is probably one of the most impactful numbers in your life. It can affect how much it’ll cost to buy a new home and it can be the deciding factor on whether you receive your next job offer.

So what do you need to do to make sure you have the best possible credit score? It starts with understanding the different factors that make up your score and how each can have an impact. Then it’s all about finding out where you can check your score for free and monitoring where you stand each month.

What Does Your Credit Score Mean

Your credit score tells a lot about you. It gives lenders a sneak peek at what type of borrower you might be. Credit scores can also be pretty confusing for many people. They’re made up of several different factors. While each is important, some carry heavier weight than others. FICO® and VantageScore®, the two major credit scoring companies, have each created their own scoring model. While their models differ from each other slightly, they both agree on the top two most important factors. Let’s take a closer.

Payment History

Payment history is the most important piece of your credit score. FICO has said it makes up roughly 35%. Payment history reveals your ability to pay bills on time. Are you frequently more than 30 days late paying your credit card bill? Have you been late with your mortgage payment? These are the things that can hurt your credit score the most.

The best way to help maintain or boost your credit score is to simply pay your bills on time. Most companies have tools to make it easier to remember your due dates. Credit card issuers allow you to change your payment due dates. That means if you always get paid on the 15th of the month, you can set your payment date for payday.

Credit Utilization

The second most important factor that goes into your credit score is credit utilization: this makes up roughly 30% of a person’s FICO Score. Credit utilization is the amount of available credit you’re using each month. For example, let’s assume you have one credit card with a credit limit of $5,000. Now let’s assume on average you’re carrying a balance of $1,000 from one month to the next. This would mean your credit utilization is 20% ($1,000/$5,000).

Most experts recommend keeping your credit utilization at 30% or below. However, to get the best possible score, you’ll want to keep your utilization as low as possible. Set up alerts before your statements close each month and make sure you’ve paid down your balance as far as possible.

Age Of Credit History

How long you’ve had established credit makes up around 15% of your overall credit score. There are two pieces that are considered. The first is the age of your oldest account. The second is the average age of all your credit accounts. The older they are, the better.

If you’ve ever heard someone say it’s better to keep a credit card open than to close it, they know what they’re talking about. Unless there is a good reason to close the account (like if it has a high annual fee), keep it open and stick the card in your drawer. Closing the account could reduce your average account age, potentially lowering your credit score.

Account Mix

Another 10% of your credit score is made up of your credit mix. Both FICO and VantageScore like seeing a diverse mixture of both revolving credit accounts (credit cards) and installment loans (car loans, mortgage loans).

Number Of Credit Inquiries

The final piece of your credit score, which makes up another 10%, is the number of credit inquiries you have. Each time you apply for a new loan, a hard inquiry is done. This can reduce your credit score by a few points each time.

How Do I Improve My Credit Score?

If your credit score is lower than you want it to be, there are some things you can do.

Make Timely Payments

Because on-time payments make up 35% of your overall credit score, making timely payments is crucial. If you have multiple credit cards, start by moving their due dates to the same day. Then set up autopay for all your accounts, everything from your credit cards to your mortgage and even your cell phone bill.

Be Cautious About How Much You Charge

The more you spend on your credit cards, the higher your credit utilization is going to be. The simplest way to avoid any negative effects is to make sure you’re paying off your balance each month. Not only will this keep your utilization low, but it will also help you avoid finance charges. If you need to carry a balance from one month to the next, make sure you pay down as much as possible. Aim to have no higher than a 30% credit utilization ratio.

Only Apply For Credit Cards When Necessary

Applying for a new credit card might be tempting every time you see an announcement for a huge signup bonus. However, the more credit accounts you apply for, the more significant the impact on your credit score. If you do apply for multiple credit cards, spread out the applications. Remember that these will only affect your credit score for 12 months and will completely fall off your credit report in 24 months.

Review Your Credit Report Regularly

It’s important to review your credit report at least a couple of times each year. This will help make sure new credit accounts haven’t been opened without your approval. For more information, visit our learning centers for credit and personal finance tips.

Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant is a Denver based freelance writer specializing in travel, credit cards, and personal finance. With more than 10 years of writing experience, his work has appeared in many of the industries’ top publications.