Now More People Can Get Credit Scores — Real Ones — For Free

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Getting a free credit score is generally no easy feat, but people with credit cards issued by Barclaycard US and First Bankcard no longer have to jump through hoops to see their FICO score. 

This week, FICO announced that it partnered with the card-issuing branches of Barclays and the First National Bank of Omaha to give customers access to their credit score. Cardholders don’t have to sign up or take any action; the score will start showing up on their monthly statements, along with the two factors that influence it the most.

A spokesman says in the future, more than 25 million people with bank accounts, credit cards or loans will get access to their scores, saying the company is “well down the path to bringing on additional institutions.”

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Craig Focardi, senior research director at CEB TowerGroup, says this is a significant benefit. “Instead of the consumer doing a separate process … this free access enables the consumer to see the score the lender used at the time their credit was evaluated,” he says.

Since scores vary based on the credit bureau, the time when the data was pulled and the formula the lender uses for scoring, it can be hard for even well-informed consumers to know exactly what a lender sees when it pulls their credit. “Now there’s the opportunity for an apples-to-apples comparison,” Focardi says.

You can see your credit reports from all three bureaus for free once a year via, but that doesn’t include the score, even though some lawmakers are trying to change that.

Aside from FICO’s initiative, though, it’s tough if you want to see your score for free. For instance, if a lender makes an unfavorable decision on your application, either charging you higher interest or denying you outright, you can get both your credit report and your score for free. Ideally, though, you’d be able to get this financial information before applying for a loan or line of credit.

(MORE: Think You Just Bought Your “Real” Credit Score? Think Again)

What’s even more frustrating for consumers is that the scores you can buy — for nearly $20 each — aren’t the same ones lenders are using. Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that up to 20% of the credit scores consumers buy are different enough from their “real” score that it knocks them into a different credit category.  Consumer Reports did an investigation earlier this year and concluded, “We think the scores consumers can buy are inferior.”

Even with FICO’s offering scores through participating banks, borrowers have to keep in mind that lenders use credit scores as part of a broader underwriting process. Yes, they’re looking at this score, but they’re looking at plenty of other stuff too, says Focardi.

“The other types of criteria might include other information on credit reports, like whether or not the person has a job, the payment history and the income level… they may also use internal scoring models,” he says. Those other scores might come from one of the big three bureaus scores, or they might use another kind of behavioral score related to risk, he says.

Still, the FICO score access is a step in the right direction, he says. “I think it’s necessary to improve information transparency for the end consumer.”