Complete Guide to Free Credit Scores, Reports, and Monitoring… for credit card bonus hunting

If you often sign up for credit cards in order to earn huge signup bonuses, then you’ve probably realized that managing your credit is important. And it’s not just your credit score that’s important — it’s also good to know the details of your credit report and to be alerted when new hard inquiries are made. Chase’s dreaded 5/24 Rule is a good example of this. Chase will often decline an applicant if he or she has opened 5 or more credit cards with any bank in the past 24 months. So, it’s a good idea to know how to count your 5/24 status.

The Basics

Three credit bureaus: In the US, there are three credit bureaus that banks can use to request your credit report: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Some banks pull from just one bureau. Some pull from two. Some pull from all three. And they’re not always consistent. Depending upon where you live, banks may vary which credit bureau(s) they pull from.

5/24 status

Scores: Most lenders use your FICO Score to help determine whether or not to extend new credit to you. According to myFICO, scores take into account the following factors:

  • 35% Payment History: Always pay your bills on time!
  • 30% Amounts Owed: Try not to use anywhere near all of your available credit
  • 15% Length of Credit History: The longer the better. Don’t get rid of your oldest cards!
  • 10% New Credit: When you open many new accounts, it can affect your score negatively
  • 10% Credit Mix: It’s good to have a mix of loans: credit cards, car loan, mortgage, etc.

Inquiries: When you request a new card, the credit issuer almost always issues a “hard” inquiry rather than a soft inquiry. A hard inquiry (a “hard pull”) will usually have a small temporary negative effect on your credit score. Even if your score doesn’t decrease, too many hard inquiries can hurt your chances of getting a new credit card because it looks like you’re desperate for credit. Soft inquiries have no effect.

Tip 1: Hard Inquiries appear only on the credit report of the bureau that handled the inquiry. This means that you will likely have different numbers of inquiries showing on each credit report. By keeping track of which credit bureau each bank uses for your applications, it may be possible to spread out the inquiries across bureaus so that no single bureau shows too many.

Tip 2: Inquiries “hurt” much less as time goes by. After 90 days, the negative effect is minimal. After 6 months, hard inquiries are barely considered. And, after 24 months they fall off your credit report altogether.

Accounts: When you are approved for a new card, it becomes a new account on your credit reports. Most if not all major banks report accounts to all three bureaus. They report the open date, close date (if applicable), current balance each month, current credit limit, whether or not you missed payments, etc.

Tip 1: The status of your revolving credit accounts is much more important to your credit score than number of inquiries. Make sure to pay your all of your accounts on time.

Tip 2: Having more accounts can help your credit score. 30% of your score is your credit utilization ratio. The larger your total credit limit, the better your utilization ratio should be. In most cases, more cards means having a higher limit and therefore a better utilization ratio.

Tip 3: Unlike inquiries, accounts usually show up on all three credit bureaus.

FREE Credit Scores, Reports, and Monitoring

Free Equifax FICO Score from Citi 2

Ideally you would have ready access to your scores, accounts (credit report details), and inquiries from all three bureaus. And, ideally, all three bureaus would be monitored: you would be alerted when new inquiries are made or new accounts added to your reports. And, of course, all of this would ideally be free. Here’s how…

In most cases there are a number of options for free scores, reports, and/or monitoring. Many tools offer free FAKO credit scores (these are estimates of FICO scores), but it’s possible to find free options for real FICO scores. I’ve picked the options that I think will be most accessible to most readers:

Equifax

Experian

TransUnion

Comments

  1. I recently signed up for Credit Journey thru Chase. Applied for a Barclay biz card and Chase Biz card on same day with instant approvals. Received notification from Credit Journey of a new hard inquiry by Barclays. It got me thinking about whether keeping Credit Journey is a good idea since there are other websites with Transunion data. The terms of Credit Journey through Chase state:

    “Your Authorization to Chase to Obtain Your Credit Information
    By checking the Authorization box and clicking “I consent” during enrollment, you are providing written instructions under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other applicable laws, including similar state laws,
    for TransUnion or any other consumer reporting agency to release your credit report information, including a VantageScore Credit Score, to Chase upon Chase’s request at any time as long as you are
    enrolled in the Credit Journey service. Chase will use this information to provide you with the CreditJourney service and to offer you other Chase products from time to time.”

    I know Chase can look at my credit report at any time, but I’m wondering if this monitoring by Credit Journey may actually bring unwanted attention to hard inquiries by other banks to Chase, i.e., a Credit Journey update might actually be a notification to Chase about new credit inquiries when Chase might otherwise not be looking for this information. For this reason, I’m considering cancelling my “membership” in Credit Journey. Maybe I’m just being paranoid about the boilerplate language in the terms and conditions of Credit Journey, but I’d appreciate your thoughts on whether Credit Journey reporting might actually flag your accounts with Chase since Credit Journey is telling Chase (as well as you) about new hard pulls. Do you have thoughts on whether that possibility makes the service less valuable given other methods of getting free credit reports. Thanks for your input.

    • That’s a great question. I don’t think that Chase will use the info that way, but you never know! You might as well unsubscribe just in case. I don’t think Credit Journey has any advantages over the other free tools listed here.

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