In the US, you can't do without a credit score! Potential lenders, landlords and even employers gauge your creditworthiness and assess your financial risk profile by looking at your credit score, so it's even more important than you realize. The FICO score is the most widely used credit score in the US.
A credit score is a number indicating your creditworthiness - how prompt and responsible you have been in paying your bills and debts. Under the U.S. federal law, AnnualCreditReport.com remains the only authorized website to get your free annual credit report (which doesn't include your credit score). To find out your credit score at any time, you have to pay to get it from any of the three major US credit rating agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
When you apply for credit, your credit score will determine the interest rates you will be offered. The higher your score, the lower the interest rates you may pay on credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. The converse applies too: the lower your score, the higher the rates you most likely will pay.
The only way to get a free FICO credit score is to sign up for a free trial with one of the credit bureaus or with Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), get your credit report and score, then cancel before the trial period ends so that you pay nothing for your credit report and score. Some of you may want to continue getting the benefits of a paid credit report and credit score tracking service, and if that's the case, just stay on with the membership (which I did with mine). But if you just simply want to get a free credit report and score, just remember to cancel your membership before the trial ends.
Having a credit report tracking service (you pay a small fee) is an effective way of protecting ourselves from identity theft. With your name, your Social Security number and address, someone can easily steal your identity and apply for loans or credit cards in your name, rack up huge bills which you will be responsible for paying. A credit report monitoring service will notify you whenever there are any major changes to your credit file, such as new accounts open in your name (first sign of identity theft), a credit card balance increase, a new inquiry, late payments or change of address. That way, you'll know if you've been a victim of identity theft or if there are any clerical errors you should correct in your credit report so as not to jeopardize your credit score.
We at GET.com have written a lot on the topic of credit scores and credit reports:
The free annual credit report you are entitled under US federal law doesn't include your credit score. Other than paying a small fee to get it, how can you get your credit score for free? We tell you how!
The FICO score is the best-known and most widely used credit score model in America. Here it explains what a FICO score is and why you should know about it!
The higher your FICO score, the lower the interest rates you will most likely pay. Thus it helps to practice some good habits which would improve your FICO score over the long run.
Banks do not only examine your FICO score when it comes to making lending decisions. Learn about the Three C's of good credit here.
You need to pay attention to what the bank knows about you and how you handle your money. Whether you like it or not, banks use all this information to judge you and decide whether to lend you credit or not.