I have always advocated doing everything possible to pay off credit card balances; it's good financial management and the ticket to a strong FICO credit score.
-- Suze Orman 

Credit cards will often win customers with features such as cash back or no balance-transfer fees. There's another feature that's becoming more common among cards, and it's one that should appeal to lots of people: free credit scores.

Credit report with 790 score on a desk - and the word excellent

Image source: Getty Images.

As Suze Orman noted above, credit scores -- of which FICO scores are the most commonly used -- can be extremely influential in your financial life. Whether you're digging out of debt and trying to boost your score, or just want to be reassured now and then that it's remaining high, it can be quite handy if your credit card gives you regular access to your score. 

Here's a review of credit scores, in general, as well as a look at a handful of outstanding credit cards that offer free FICO scores.

Credit score basics

It's true that, by law, we're all entitled to a free copy of our credit reports annually from each of the three main credit agencies -- visit AnnualCreditReport.com to order yours. But your credit report is different from your credit score, and the report won't typically come with the score.

Your credit report offers lots of details on your debts and repayment history, as well as a look at the credit you have, such as through credit cards. Credit scores are based on the information in credit reports, though, so the reports are important and worth checking, especially to spot and then correct errors. (You can also improve your score by paying bills on time and paying down debts.)

A high credit score will get you lower interest rates when you want to borrow. The table below shows just how much of a difference that can make, reflecting recent interest rates for someone borrowing $200,000 via a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage:

FICO Score

APR

Monthly Payment

Total Interest Paid

760-850

3.856%

$938

$137,789

700-759

4.078%

$964

$146,985

680-699

4.255%

$984

$154,408

660-679

4.469%

$1,010

$163,488

640-659

4.899%

$1,061

$182,079

620-639

5.445%

$1,129

$206,237

Source: MyFICO.com, as of late March 2017.

Happy woman making okay sign with fingers and holding a credit card.

Image source: Getty Images.

Great credit cards with free credit scores

Without further ado, here are five excellent credit cards that offer FICO scores for free.

  • Barclaycard Ring Mastercard: This card has a nice range of features, such as no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees (making it very convenient for travelers), and no balance transfer fees. Its initial APR is 0% for the first 15 months for transfers made within 45 days of opening the account. The card gives you online access to your FICO score. It also won't hike your interest rate if you pay a bill late. Many cards will impose a "penalty APR," increasing your interest rate (by a lot) -- that can severely hurt you financially if you're carrying debt. This card doesn't give any awards or cash back, though, and you'll likely need a high credit score in order to get approved. (Read our full review of Barclaycard Ring Mastercard to learn more.)
  • Chase Slate: This card also offers no rewards, points, or cash back, but it has a bunch of redeeming features. It charges no annual fee and imposes no penalty APR. For balance transfers, its initial APR is 0% for the first 15 months for transfers made within 60 days of opening the account. (If you're interested in transferring a balance, know that once the 0% teaser rate expires, the APR it charges isn't among the lowest you'll find, so aim to get a lot of debt paid off in those first 15 months.) Chase Slate also offers Blueprint financial planning tools to its cardholders to help them with debt-reduction strategies, and it makes your FICO score available for free each month, too. (Read our full review of Chase Slate to learn more.)
  • BankAmericard®: BankAmericard® charges no annual fee, and offers no cash back or points or rewards. It does charge a balance transfer fee of 3% of the value of your transfer (or $10, whichever is greater). Its intro APR is 0% for the first 18 billing cycles for transfers made within 60 days of opening the account. After that, the APR is the lowest rate charged by any BankAmericard product. This card does impose a penalty APR of more than 25%, though, so you'll need to be good about not being late with a payment. The card also offers online or mobile access to your FICO credit score.(Read our full review of BankAmericard® to learn more.)
  • Citi Double Cash Card: Like the cards above, the Citi Double Cash Card offers access to your FICO credit score, but unlike them, it does offer cash back on purchases -- and it's rather generous, too. You get 1% cash back on just about all purchases, and then another 1% back when you pay off that sum, for a total of 2% cash back. (Charge about $1,000 per month? You're looking at $240 in cash back each year.) It charges a balance transfer fee of 3% of the value of your transfer (or $5, whichever is greater) and 0% for the first 18 months. There's no annual fee, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. If you're late paying a bill, it will forgive you -- once. Then a penalty APR can be imposed of up to 30%. (Read our full review of the Citi Double Cash Card to learn more.)
  • Discover it Cashback Match: This card offers free FICO scores on your statements, online, and/or in the Discover Mobile app -- and it includes not just your latest score, but past ones, too, so that you can see whether your score is going up or down. The card also offers cash back -- a substantial 5% back on up to $1,500 spent over three months in categories that you activate (such as restaurants, gas stations, home improvement stores, or Amazon.com), plus 1% back on all other spending. Note, too, that you get to specify the categories for your extra rewards -- many other cards choose the categories themselves, which can be inconvenient if you expect to spend a lot on the current category next quarter instead of this one. The card has one more big benefit -- it will match all the cash-back money you earn in your first year, paying you that same sum again. It charges a balance transfer fee of 3% of the value of your transfer and 0% interest for the first 14 months. It charges no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, and imposes no penalty APR. (Read our full review of Discover it® Card to learn more.)

Be sure to read the fine print and terms for any card you're thinking of signing up for, as there may be details making each card more or less attractive. Some, for example, may limit how big a balance transfer you can make, while others might offer an enticing sign-up bonus. Many great cards require a good or great credit score, too -- so you might want to beef up your score before applying.

Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amazon and JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.