Credit Score and Credit Reports

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You want to know your credit score, because you were a fucking idiot like me and once were bad at this, and want to see if you’ve redeemed yourself. Or you’re awesome and perfect and want that numerically affirmed. Or you want to check your credit report to see if you’ve earned some errant scarlet letter or something. Whatever. There’s ways to do this, and not have it even cost you money.

What’s on your credit history is all of your open accounts, and closed accounts between seven and ten years from when they were closed. It shows how much total credit you have and how much you currently owe and how many recent inquiries you’ve had and the names of your siblings and your sexual preference and…anyway, it’s what you get judged on when you apply for a card. Your history is also reduced to a score, called a FICO score, between 300 and 850 (usually), so that the banks can say “oh you? no problem” or “hahahahahaha” without necessarily needing to look more deeply at the report.

First off, your credit history. In 2003, your elected representatives decided that you are entitled to have each major credit reporting bureau — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — provide you with a yearly free credit report so you can look at it and make sure you’re not being shafted. In general, they should all look pretty much the same, though they might reflect different things like number of inquiries, depending upon which got hit when you applied for a card. You can get those free reports at It’s kind of a meta-site that guides you into each of the three bureaus’ sites, and you gotta be careful because you only get one crack at the information. So click carefully, and print it, PDF it, or save it before closing each of the three reports.

However, much has happened since 2003, and you’ve got other options. If you sign up for Credit Karma, which is free, you can actually see both your TransUnion and Equifax reports. Hooray. If you sign up at, you can get your Experian report (and your Experian FICO score, as explained below; don’t sign up at its sister site or app called Free Credit Report, or you’ll be forever consigned to paying for your score).

If you want to know your credit score, you actually want your FICO score, and furthermore you want your “FICO 8” score, and you want it on the scale from 300-850. It turns out that they have all kinds of other scores on other scales and that’s well and fine but it’s hard to make sense of the numbers with those. Also, everybody and their cousin, including Credit Karma and many credit cards, are happy to give you a “credit score,” but it’s not actually your FICO score — it’s their approximation of your score (sometimes called a VantageScore). Only the fuckin FICO company has the actual FICO score that banks use. Of course. And each bureau will yield its own FICO score — in my case, two of the three are nearly the same, but Experian is 15 points lower, because that’s the one that Chase and American Express bangs on for NY residents, and I’ve applied for many of their cards lately. Usually, knowing a single bureau’s score ought to be good enough.

One way to not-so-cheap get all three scores for two months is to subscribe to the 3B package at Do the monthly plan, which will put you out $29.95. Make sure you call to cancel it before it renews — put it on your calendar. (And yes, you have to call.) You’ll still have access to your updated scores for another 20 days or so after that.

If you’re a cheap bastard and you don’t want to pay for your FICO score, and I can’t say I blame you, you can live with the freebie fake score (that I’ve consistently found to be inflated) at Credit Karma. Or you can get it with the right credit cards or services:

  • Experian: American Express personal credit cards, and maybe charge cards, let you see your Experian FICO score.  Just log in to your Amex account online and look for the link on the right. If you don’t have an Amex card, you can also get your Experian FICO score at; be prepared for some serious upsell. Or you could get the no-fee Amex Everyday card, or try Discover’s, which doesn’t even require that you have one of their cards.
  • TransUnion: Barclays, Discover, Bank of America and others let you see your TransUnion FICO score (if you don’t have one of these cards, pick a no-fee option like the Barclays JetBlue card).
  • Equifax: Citi cards are the only ones I know of that let you see your Equifax FICO score, though on a confusing scale of 250-900, so it looks higher than it really is. My way of converting this to the 300-850 scale is: score minus 250, times 0.85, plus 300. It ain’t perfectly accurate, but It’s within 10 points of the real score, in my case.

I’m happy to report that my credit score is not nearly as shitty as it used to be. Redemption is possible!


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