There is no shortage of advertisements for websites promising a "free credit score" to consumers, but most, if not all of these aren't worth your time.
However, a truly free and useful credit score may be coming your way in 2015 thanks to a new program by Fair Isaac Corporation (NYSE:FICO), the company behind the U.S.'s most widely used credit scores. Major credit card issuers, including Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), are getting set to offer their customers the valuable FICO scores absolutely free. Here's what a real "credit score" is and whether you could might be getting free access to yours.
What's wrong with most "free credit scores"?
There are two major problems with most of the "free credit score" offers you see. First, most of them aren't actually "free." You'll have to sign up for a trial period using your credit card, and if you don't cancel quickly you'll be on the hook for a monthly membership fee.
Second and more importantly, most of the scores you get aren't very useful at all. The FICO scoring model is used in about 90% of lending decisions, so if you are looking at another type of score like the Vantage Score or Experian Plus Score, you won't know the exact score a lender will see when they check your credit.
FICO Scores could become free for you
In the past, there have been very few ways you could see your actual FICO score that lenders use. In fact, until recent years, the only way was to buy it through myFICO.com. Now, you can also buy yours through Experian's website, but if you want it free there is only one way to get it.
Through FICO's Open Access program, which started in November 2013, lenders can provide their customers with their actual FICO credit scores they use when making lending decisions. At first, just a few banks had signed on, but it looks like the program is about to rapidly expand.
However, it was recently announced that Bank of America, Citigroup (NYSE:C) and JPMorgan Chase, three of the largest credit card issuers in the world, will begin providing free FICO scores to credit card customers this year.
Citigroup plans to offer free FICO scores to most of its Citi credit card customers later this month, while JPMorgan plans to begin providing scores to its approximately 10 million Chase Slate cardholders in the coming months. Bank of America, which has been issuing more than one million new credit cards each quarter, will begin providing its cardholders with their FICO scores later this year as well.
Ally Financial (NYSE:ALLY) has also announced its intention to offer free FICO scores, which is very significant because it's the only non-credit-card issuer to do so. The company will offer scores to some of its auto loan customers next month (February) as part of a pilot program before expanding the offering to its two million auto loan customers this summer.
However, just because your bank hasn't yet embraced the idea of free FICO scores doesn't mean it won't happen. FICO scores are very valuable to consumers, and as it stands right now, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and the other companies are getting a huge competitive advantage. As a result, I wouldn't be surprised to see other lenders follow suit, sooner rather than later.
Matthew Frankel owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool recommends American Express, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup Inc, Discover Financial Services, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.