For the first time ever, all Americans can check their FICO® credit score without having to pay. That's welcome news for many consumers who want to keep track of their credit score but don't want to pay a fee each time they do.

This free service is offered by Discover Financial Services, which has long included free FICO® Score access as a benefit for Discover cardholders. Now the company is extending access to all consumers, regardless of whether you have a Discover credit card or not.

Using the Credit Scorecard, a new online service by Discover, you can check their score at any time. Additionally, you get a summary of the different data that affects your credit score and information that can help you learn how to keep your score going strong.

Your credit score pretty much sums up how trustworthy you are as far as lenders are concerned. When you pay your phone, rent and electric bills on time, repay a loan, or make your credit card payments by the due date, you build up your score by showing lenders that you can be trusted to repay credit.

Taking on too much debt and missing payments, on the other hand, causes your credit score to go down because your behavior shows lenders that you are not to be trusted.

The FICO® Score is one of the most widely used credit scoring systems in the U.S., and is one of the first stops for merchants and credit providers interested in checking out your creditworthiness.

Although the FICO® Score provided by Discover is based on your credit history at a single credit bureau (Experian) rather than a combination of your credit history at all 3 major bureaus, it provides a pretty accurate picture of what lenders will see when they check your credit score.

Discover began providing its cardmembers with FICO® Scores on their monthly statements and online in 2013, and introduced a feature which lets cardmembers track recent FICO® Scores in 2015. Now the innovative credit card company has gone a step further by making credit scores available to all, at no charge.

Unless you already get your FICO® Score for free with your credit card (if you have a Barclays card there's a good chance that you do), we recommend you get online and sign up for Credit Scorecard. It's free and checking your score does not damage your creditworthiness, so go ahead and see what your credit looks like.

If it's less than impressive, don't lose heart. There are many ways to repair credit, the easiest of which is making your credit card payments on time. If you don't have a credit card, there are ways to build credit without using a credit card, but a credit card is the cheapest and most effective credit building tool.

Building Credit

A low score could also indicate that you don't have much of a credit history, meaning FICO simply doesn't have enough information about you to form an accurate opinion. A good way to build your credit history, and a good credit score (if you handle it right), is by using a secured credit card.

Secured credit cards are a no-debt solution because you pay a deposit to cover the line of credit you receive. But when you make your payments on time, the right secured card builds your credit score just like any other credit card.

Enjoying Your Credit

If you have an excellent credit score (750-850) you should qualify for the best phone contracts and low interest rates on auto loans and mortgages. You can also apply for the best rewards credit cards and low interest credit cards out there. In other words, you get to enjoy many more benefits and higher rewards at a much lower cost, compared to if you had bad credit.

You can find out more about credit scores in our guide to credit scores. But the basic rules are simple. Pay your important bills on time, never miss a credit card payment and don't borrow money that you can't realistically repay on time.

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Image courtesy of Discover Financial Services