Your credit score is one of the most widely used quantitative indicators of your creditworthiness. This three-digit number (it ranges between 300-850) is used by financial institutions and businesses to gauge the risk associated with lending you money or offering certain incentives. In the US, the original formula was developed by Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO, hence the FICO score), but lately, three other credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) have been offering their own comparable versions, such as VantageScore. The score and report can be directly obtained from either of these organizations, either via one-time purchase, or through the subscription to credit monitoring services. In this post, I will briefly discuss two alternative sources that offer credit scores, absolutely free and whenever you need it: CreditKarma and CreditSesame.
CreditKarma is a web-based service that provides a free credit report and score, using TransUnion database. In addition to standard TransRisk score, you will also get free Auto Insurance Score and another alternative to FICO, VantageScore. The full credit report card offers breakdown of both positive and negative factors that affect your score. The site also allows you to compare yourself against other people at the national and local (statewide) level, within the same age group, and even by email domain name (see chart below).
Check out some interesting differences in credit scores across these groups on their site. I also found their credit score simulation tool to be very handy: it shows you how to increase your credit score.
Unlike CreditKarma, CreditSesame offers a single credit score, using Experian database, and full report card with influential factors. You can purchase more detailed credit report for 9 dollars. Their site has too many ads and offers, to my tastes, so it will be probably more useful if you are on the market for a mortgage or a new credit card. I personally prefer CreditKarma, because I simply need to monitor my credit score.
Finally, I should also mention that both services require entering your social security number (although both are highly secure) and personal address. In both cases, your credit reports are updated on a monthly basis, and, again, none of the services offers the actual FICO score.