Why Getting Your Credit Score Is Harder Than It Should Be
by Lyle Daly | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on May 16, 2019
Yes, getting your credit score is unnecessarily difficult. Here’s why.
Image source: Getty Images.
For such an important measure of your financial health, your credit score isn’t exactly easy to find. It often seems like the credit bureaus keep your score under lock and key, and that they aren’t too keen on sharing it with you.
You’d think that it’d be best for consumers if we could all see our credit scores whenever we wanted. Why doesn’t it work this way? It all comes back to the fact that your credit score isn’t just a score -- it’s a product.
The business behind your credit score
As you may know, there are three separate credit bureaus in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These three bureaus all maintain credit files on consumers, and based on the information in these files, they also calculate credit scores.
What comes as a surprise to many people is that these credit bureaus aren’t government organizations or managed by the government. They’re private, for-profit businesses, and credit scores are a moneymaker for them.
By law, each credit bureau is required to issue you one free credit report per year. Your credit report will list what that credit bureau has on your file, such as accounts and credit inquiries. It does not, however, include a credit score.
The credit bureaus have no legal obligation to share your credit score with you. For that reason, it makes more sense for them to sell your score than to share it freely.
How credit bureaus profit off of credit services
A significant source of profit for credit bureaus is selling credit reports and scores to businesses (most often lenders) that are running credit checks. For example, when consumers apply for any of the following, the lender/business will almost always purchase a credit report from at least one credit bureau:
- Auto loans
- Personal loans
- Credit cards
- Renting a home
In fact, credit bureaus have a variety of credit scoring systems at their disposal, with each one tailored to specific types of applications. There are credit scores specifically for auto lenders, mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and more.
Credit bureaus don’t just sell your score to businesses, though. They will also sell it to you, typically as part of a credit monitoring service.
If the idea of paying to see your credit score seems ridiculous, you’re certainly not alone. You’d think that if you’re entitled to a free credit report, then a credit score should come with it. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to see your score without paying for it.
How to get your credit score for free
Gone are the days when the only way to see your credit score was to pay for it. Free credit monitoring is now a common extra perk available with many of the best credit cards, bank accounts, and even one of the credit bureaus (Experian).
Start by seeing whether any bank or credit card company that you use has a free credit score service. Quite a few of them do, and if yours does, this will be the most convenient way to get your credit score.
If that’s not an option, there are several companies offering free credit scores to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a customer or not. Discover® Credit Scorecard and Experian CreditWorksSM Basic are two popular free credit score services.
Just keep in mind that with these types of services, you’ll only see one type of credit score. To get a more thorough picture of your credit, you may want to use multiple credit score services and compare what each one says.
Getting your hands on your credit score
There’s no arguing that obtaining a credit score can be unnecessarily difficult for consumers. Since credit bureaus make money by selling credit scores, this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
On a positive note, there are ways to get ahold of your credit score out there, and many of them are free services. Once you know where to look, you’ll have an easy time staying on top of your credit.
Top credit card wipes out interest until 2023
If you have credit card debt, transferring it to this top balance transfer card secures you a 0% intro APR into 2023! Plus, you'll pay no annual fee. Those are just a few reasons why our experts rate this card as a top pick to help get control of your debt. Read our full review for free and apply in just 2 minutes.
About the Author
We're firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.