Saturday, January 28, 2017

Credit Reports & Credit Scores

How to get monthly updated 3-bureau FICO 8 scores, 3-bureau Vantage 3.0 Scores & 3-bureau Credit Reports for FREE? (Absolutely NO payments + NO trial periods)


A good credit history is very important not just to borrow money. It can determine if you can stay in a good apartment or get affordable rates for rental/home or auto insurance or even get a good cellphone connection. (For more reading, refer here)

For instance, when I first arrived in the United States, I had a reliable high paying job and a claim free history of driving more than 10 years on the more dangerous urban roads in India. Allstate quoted me more than $500 per month (>$6000 per year) to insure only one new sedan worth $20K. I didn't have any credit history then (and had a zero credit score).

Credit Reports & Credit Scores

There are three competing credit bureaus - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion - that collect information to maintain a record of your credit history. This record is called the credit report. The information on your credit report with each of the credit bureaus may be different since the bureau has access to only the information that is reported to them. 

Various scoring models then try to score you on the information based on these credit reports. The scores from each scoring model could differ for each bureau since your information with each of the bureaus is likely different. Hence, for every scoring model, you could have 3 different credit scores based on the credit report from each bureau.

Until 2006,  FICO scoring model, maintained by Fair Issac Corporation was the de-facto scoring model for the lending industry. There are various types of FICO scores (around 28 or so), including FICO, FICO 8, FICO 9, FICO Auto and FICO Bankcard scores. Various lenders use the different types of scores. Despite the more recent advent of numerous other scoring models, most lenders still use FICO scores. 

Among the non-FICO scoring models, the most notable is the Vantage 3.0 scoring model that was devised by the 3 credit bureaus, in order to compete with FICO. Often, when someone offers to provide your free credit score, it's the Vantage 3.0 credit score. You can find more on the differences between different FICO scores, Vantage 3.0 scores and other scores from here or here. 

Getting your Credit Information

In the United States, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies - Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Order online from, the only authorized website for free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228.

Generally, one would need to monitor their credit report(s) and get to know their credit scores, more frequently. Traditionally, you needed to spend around $30 a month to get more frequent access to the credit reports, FICO scores based on reports from each of the 3 credit bureaus and Vantage 3.0 credit scores from each of the 3 bureaus (Total 3 credit reports, at least 3 FICO scores and 3 Vantage 3.0 scores). Even with that payment, there could be restrictions on how frequently the data is updated and the type of score and the bureau report that the score is based on.

Getting your updated Credit Reports and Credit Scores for FREE

Thankfully, there are ways to refresh the credit scores and reports from each of the 3 credit bureaus and the FICO 8 scores (used by credit card companies) based on credit reports from each of the 3 bureaus, for at least once a month, completely FREE of charge

As depicted in the table above, a combination of information from, and will help you get your free credit reports & Vantage 3.0 scores from each of the three bureaus. Each site provides some of the information, as described in the table below. 

American express card holders of Hilton Honors Credit Card ($0 annual fee) can view their FICO 8 score based on their Experian report, updated monthly, for free, at Discover also offers monthly updated FICO score 8 score based on Experian report to anyone (customer or non-customer) through for FREE

Similarly, holders of Citi Double Cash Card  or HSBC Rewards Platinum Master Card can view their FICO score 8 based on their Equifax report from either the respective bank website (in case of Citi) or from their monthly statement (in case of HSBC). Similarly, Discover credit card customers can view their FICO 8 scores based on their TransUnion credit reports. 

What's the catch?

  • creditkarma uses your credit information to provide targeted offers, which when you click on pays for your reports and scores. 
  • freecreditreport is run by experian. Every time a user logs in, they try to lure customers into buying their experian credit score for $1 (which increases to $20+, billed monthly, if you don't cancel in 7 days). Just don't fall for the lure and you can continue getting the experian credit report for free, updated monthly.
  • does similar, they try to lure customers into buying an experian credit reportJust don't fall for the lure and you can continue getting the experian credit score for free, updated bi-weekly.
  • Monthly FICO score update is a free benefit provided by the respective credit card issuers to their customers.

Other Notable Credit Scores

In addition to the widely used FICO scores and Vantage 3.0 scores based on credit reports from each of the 3 bureaus, Experian offers a National Equivalency Score, TransUnion offers a TransRisk score (Now called TransUnion New Account Score 2.0) and Equifax offers an Equifax Score. freely provides Experian's "National Equivalency Score", while freely provides TransUnion's TransRisk Score.

The Premium Option

If you are willing to shell out $29.95/month, then you could get all the 28 FICO scores (based on the report from each of the 3 credit bureaus), updated quarterly. However, the free FICO 8 scores, Vantage 3.0 scores and the other free scores from credit bureaus are likely to be indicative of where you stand

Moreover, what is more important is that you have free monthly access to all your credit reports, as this will let you frequently monitor for any inaccuracies.

Welcome to the "Thrifty Spenders' Club"

I am thrifty, but not stingy. I judged that beyond a certain point, my brain cells allocated to the treasury are better spent on figuring out how to make more money rather than to figure out how to save even less. But when I spend money, I strive to capture the most value per the time and effort spent. 

One of the first advise someone gave me when I first visited the US was to try not to buy anything that is not on a deal. According to him, Americans loved deals and businesses would race to quickly fill that appetite.

I sieve through the internet for ideas to save money spent on regular household chores. I have realized that it's not trivial to brave numerous concealed ads cloaked like "information" and "advise". I often need to discuss inferences with friends and colleagues to ensure that I have zoomed in all the relevant fine-print

Perhaps many will benefit if I share what I learn. I intend to consolidate my learning into a blog that I hope will be an unbiased source of advise on being smarter at spending money.