Get free FICO scores for auto and student loans

By Lifestyle and Budget Consumer Reports

Four more creditors–Hyundai, Kia, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, and Sallie Mae–have joined the FICO Open Access program, which gives borrowers free regular access to the credit score that their lender actually uses to assess their credit standing and manage their account. 

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That's another positive step toward the goal Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is fighting for: Free consumer access to the real credit scores used by lenders in making credit decisions. As we've previously reported, you should not buy the useless "educational" credit scores that credit bureaus, myFICO.com, and other companies sell consumers for as much as $20 apiece, because they're not the same scores actually used to judge your creditworthiness and set your interest rates and auto and home insurance premiums.

The scores in the FICO Open Access program, however, are the real McCoy. 

The scores offered through Hyundai and Kia also represent an important gain for consumers, because they're specialty scores designed for auto financing and have previously been unavailable to consumers. "The auto industry FICO scores look more closely at the consumer's history with automobile loans, and they weigh that a little more heavily," says Anthony Sprauve, senior consumer credit specialist at FICO. There are no specialty educational loan scores, so Sallie Mae uses the general FICO scoring model.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has also strongly encouraged lenders to get on the bus and make the credit scores on which they rely available to customers "regularly and freely."

Find out why it's important for you to stay on top of your credit ratings in the Consumers Union report Errors and gotchas: How credit report errors and unreliable credit scores hurt consumers.

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Until Congress requires lenders to give consumers free and open access to their credit scores, protect yourself from rip-offs:

  • Take advantage of the FICO Open Access program if you've already determined that the lenders offering it provide the best credit terms for your needs.
  • Demand to see the actual proprietary score used before you agree to a loan or insurance policy. You have the most leverage to get the truth before the deal is sealed.
  • Don't waste your money buying consumer or "educational" credit scores, given that they’re not the same ones used by lenders. But if you do purchase one, and a lender or insurer later tells you your real score is lower or higher, do what you’d do with any product that doesn’t deliver: Demand a refund.
  • Always shop for credit at multiple lending sources to find the best rate. Even if lenders won’t divulge the actual score they used, getting rate quotes from several will reveal the best deal based on the numerous—and probably different—scoring systems used by prospective creditors.
  • Be sure to get your free annual credit report from each of the big three credit bureaus so you can look for and dispute errors. (Go to AnnualCreditReport.com.) We recommend that you stagger your requests and get one report from a different bureau every four months.

–Jeff Blyskal

Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.