Your Credit Score significantly impacts every part of your life. Which is why knowing your score is essential to getting and keeping your fiscal house in order.

Data breaches, such as the one at Equifax last year, make keeping track of your score and information even more vital than ever before.

Just one illegally opened form of credit can ruin your financial life.

Knowledge, as they say, is power, and keeping on top of your financial information can keep that from happening.

Know your credit score

If you don’t know your credit score, also known as a FICO score, now’s the time to get that information.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information page on free credit reports,

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.”

So there is no reason to not check your report. It’s free and relatively easy to access via a variety of methods.

You can request your free report in a number of ways, either via telephone, a mailed request form, or, the easiest way for most of us, via the website annualcreditreport.com.

This site is the only government-authorized online source to get your free annual credit report.

Any of the report request formats listed above will get you your detailed credit report information. Included in these reports will be credit inquiries associated with your name/social security number, all of the accounts you currently have open (as well as past accounts you have closed), the payment histories associated with each account, and the amounts owed on each account.

One thing these reports will not get you, however, is your actual credit/FICO score.

To get your FICO score when getting your free report, you’ll be required to pay a fee. None of the credit reporting companies offer FICO scores for free. The fee is usually around $20, and will likely be in conjunction with a monthly subscription for credit monitoring services.

Whether you purchase your FICO score and any associated add-ons, is up to you.

Just know there are less expensive, if not free, ways to see your FICO score, the specifics of which I’ll get to below.

Beware the free credit score websites

While a free FICO score sounds great, there are pitfalls of which to be aware. Many websites say they will get you your FICO score for free, but that’s usually not entirely true. As mentioned, annualcreditreport.com is the only site sanctioned by the federal government. Other sites, while they may claim to be free, will likely try to tie you into credit monitoring or other services that involve an ongoing, monthly fee. And that’s if they are legitimate.

Others may be there solely to steal your credit card information or identity once you provide your Social Security Number and other key information. So beware when looking for FICO scores outside of the “big three” reporting agencies.

Skip the questionable sites and get your score for free

Over the past few years, more and more Credit Card companies have begun offering FICO scores to cardholders for free. American Express, Citibank, Barclays, Discover, Capital One, Chase, and Citibank, to name a few, provide cardholders free FICO scores. Most card issuers make seeing your current FICO score as easy as logging into your account and selecting “Your FICO Score.” Additionally, most of these free FICO scores are updated regularly, so you’ll not only be able to see your current score but your score’s history as well.

If you have a credit card from any U.S. bank, sign in to your account to see if this free benefit is available to you.

If you don’t have a credit card or your card issuer doesn’t offer the free FICO score benefit, here are two other options for getting your score. The websites Credit Karma and Credit Sesame both offer credit scores for free, in addition to a variety of other financial information.

No matter what route you go, obtaining your credit/FICO information is fairly easy. Simply utilize the information provided to not only become better educated about your specific financial situation but to also guard against unauthorized use of your identity and credit information.

These illegal hacks will continue, regularly checking your specific credit score and information is the best way to fight back.

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