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Why Don't I Get a Free Annual Credit Score?

Federal law requires credit reporting agencies to give consumers a free copy of their credit reports every year upon request. Ideally, everyone knows this and requests their free annual credit reports, but it’s important to check your credit scores, too. Why, then, doesn’t the Fair Credit Reporting Act entitle consumers to a free annual credit score?

You can get credit scores for free, of course. More and more companies and banks are providing them at no charge. For instance, many credit card companies provide free scores through FICO’s Open Access program. (You can also get two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.) Still, these free credit scores are not federally mandated, like the free annual credit reports are.

Lawmakers have tried to make free annual credit scores happen, but bills proposing them in 2009 and 2013 didn’t get very far. Here’s part of a Library of Congress summary of the bill Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced in 2013.

[The bill a]mends the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require certain consumer reporting agencies to disclose, without charge, as part of a consumer’s free annual disclosure upon request, a current credit score generated using the scoring methodology most frequently used to generate scores sold to creditors, including information regarding other risk scores or predictors in the consumer’s file.

One Score to Rule Them All? 

At face value, that seems simple, but the world of credit scores is pretty complex. There are so many credit scores out there that it would be hard to identify a “scoring methodology most frequently used to generate scores sold to creditors.”

Take the example of widely known FICO scores: FICO says 90% of lending decisions are made using its scores, but there’s no single FICO score either. On top of that, there are more credit scoring models entering the marketplace, as lenders experiment with evaluating consumers using data not traditionally used for credit scoring, like rent payments and utility bills, among other things. Any credit score picked to accompany a free annual credit report could become outdated very quickly, as scoring companies constantly work to improve their models.

That’s not to say free credit scores aren’t important, because they are. They’re valuable educational tools. But, because it’s hard to know exactly what score a lender will use to evaluate you, it helps to focus on what’s driving the numbers (like your debt levels and payment history), rather than just the scores.

It’s a good idea to check your free credit scores and see how they change, but make sure you’re comparing the same model over time, because comparing different models isn’t much of a comparison at all. A 750 in one model could be the same as a 690 in another model, so make sure you’re making an apples to apples comparison. You also want to thoroughly review your credit reports since the information on them is what’s used to calculate the scores out their in the credit marketplace. You can get your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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