Millions more people getting free access to their FICO credit score: What you need to know

Industries Associated Press

Millions more people will have free access to their FICO credit score this year. That's good news for consumers, since the number is widely used by lenders to check potential borrowers' financial health.

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Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. said Monday that they will offer the score free to some of its customers this year. Discover Financial Services already offers a free FICO score to its credit card customers and Citigroup Inc. will offer it to most of its Citi-brand credit card customers this month.

The White House announced the new agreements Monday, saying that a free credit score was a tool to help people uncover identity theft.

Here's what you need to know about credit scores and the new deals:

Q: WHAT IS A FICO SCORE?

A: Fair Isaac Corp., the company behind FICO scores, says more than 90 percent of credit decisions are made based on them. When you apply for a new credit card, mortgage or auto loan, those lenders are likely to look at a FICO score to see if the borrower is reliable. People with higher scores — they range between 300 and 850 — may be offered lower interest rates on mortgages and other loans. Those with low scores may not be able to borrow money or may not be approved for a new credit card. Missing payments and other factors can lower a score.

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Q: HOW DO YOU KNOW YOUR FICO SCORE?

A: You can pay to see your FICO score, usually $20 each time. However, over the past two years credit card issuers including Citi, Discover, Barclaycard and First Bankcard have allowed customers access to their FICO scores at no charge.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE LATEST FICO DEALS?

A: Bank of America said its consumer credit card customers will get free access to their FICO score later this year. Chase said its 10 million Slate credit card customers will get it in the coming months, and it is evaluating whether to offer a free credit score for other cardholders. Ally Financial said its auto loan customers need to be signed up to its online service or use its mobile app to get their FICO score. Some Ally customers will be able to see it in February, and the rest will see it this summer.

Q: WEREN'T FREE CREDIT REPORTS ALREADY AVAILABLE?

A: Credit scores are derived from the information in your credit report. A credit report is a detailed list of your credit history, including past and current debts, and whether you have missed any payments — but it does not include your credit score. Consumers are able to get a free credit report from each of the three reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — at AnnualCreditReport.com. It's important to check reports for signs of fraud or mistakes.

Q: ARE THERE OTHER TYPES OF CREDIT SCORES BESIDES FICO?

A: Yes. Several websites offer free scores that are likely similar to your FICO score, because they are based on the same credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Some of the websites that offer scores are Credit.com, CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com, Quizzle.com and Mint.com. Capital One also offers a credit score to its credit card customers.