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You can check your credit score from many sources, including Experian. Learning what your credit scores mean and what affects them can help you when you're getting ready to apply for new credit.
Lenders use credit scores to decide how likely it is you will repay your debts on time. There are hundreds of credit scoring models in existence, though the FICO® Score* is the most common. The higher your credit scores, the better offers you are likely to receive from lenders in the form of lower interest rates and other favorable terms.
How to Check Your Credit Scores
There are a few ways to check your credit scores:
- Visit a free credit scoring website. Numerous websites offer free credit scores; just pay attention to the terms before you sign up. Some free sites offer educational scores that aim to give you an understanding of how you're doing credit-wise. You can obtain your free FICO® Score through Experian.
- Check with your credit card issuer or lender. Many credit card and car loan companies offer complimentary credit scores that you can check by logging into your account online or receiving on your monthly statement. Typically, you have to opt in to receive the number.
- Visit a nonprofit credit counselor. Credit counselors can often pull your scores for free and go over the details with you. To find one, check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
What Do Credit Scores Mean?
Because there are so many credit scoring models in existence, you likely have multiple scores. If you pull your score from one site or product, it will likely be slightly different from one you find through another product.
So don't get hung up on one particular score or even the exact number. Instead, pay attention to what range you fall in. Most websites and card issuers will offer some context behind the score in addition to the number.
That information will typically include where you stand and whether your score is poor, fair, good, very good or exceptional. You will also likely find information about why your score is what it is. Your score range can help you understand how lenders view your creditworthiness and what types of credit products you're likely to be approved for.
What Affects My Credit Scores?
It's important to understand the factors that go into determining your credit scores so you know how to improve them if necessary. For the FICO® Score, the credit score version you will receive through Experian, there are five main factors that impact your score. They are all weighted differently:
- Payment history: Your payment history—how regularly you pay your bills on time—accounts for 35% of your FICO® Score. Late or missed payments can negatively affect your FICO® Score, while a pattern of making payments on time is the best way to keep it high.
- Amount of debt: The amount of available debt you're using, referred to as your credit utilization ratio, accounts for 30% of your score. This is calculated by dividing how much credit you're using by the total amount of credit available to you. So if you have three credit cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000, and you have a total combined balance of $3,000 on all three cards, your utilization ratio is 30%. Most experts recommend keeping your ratio below 30%, and for the best scores, below 7%.
- Length of credit history: How long you've used credit, including your oldest and newest accounts—as well as the average age of all your open accounts—accounts for 15% of your FICO® Score. Generally, the longer you've used credit, the higher your scores.
- Amount of new credit: The total amount of new credit accounts for 10% of your FICO® Score. This takes into consideration how many accounts you've opened recently and how many recent hard inquiries you have on your credit report. Too many new accounts and inquiries could indicate greater credit risk.
- Credit mix: The variety of types of credit you're using accounts for 10% of your FICO® Score. If you have different kinds of credit, like credit cards and installment loans, you'll score higher than if you only have one type of credit, such as retail cards.
When you receive your credit score, you should also get some guidelines on your score profile and why your score ranks where it does. This will include information on what's hurting it and what's helping your score, as in the image below:
These guidelines will help you figure out what you need to do to maintain a good FICO® Score, and what you need to do to improve it. For example, if bad payment history is one of the reasons your FICO® Score is on the lower side, you should focus on paying your bills on time. Consider automating your payments so you never miss them again.
How to Get Your FICO® Score for Free
Understand the reasons that help or hurt your FICO® Score, including your payment history, how much credit you are using, as well as other factors that influence your overall credit.
Does Checking Your Credit Score Lower It?
Checking your own credit score is considered a soft inquiry and won't affect your credit score in any way. You can check your score as often as you like and know your credit won't be affected. It's wise to check your credit score regularly, but especially when you are getting ready to apply for new credit.
In addition to checking your credit score, you should check your credit report at least once a year to make sure all the information there is correct. If you see something you strongly believe is inaccurate, you can file a dispute with the appropriate credit bureau.