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How Can I Determine my FICO Credit Score Before I Start Car Shopping?

Published August 10, 2018

Youíve probably heard the term FICO score and while you know it has an impact on your credit, you may not know exactly where it comes from and how itís generated. FICO stands for the initials of the company that developed the scoring system Fair Isaac Company, the last names of the two founders.

A measure of credit risk, FICO scores are calculated through the three major consumer reporting agencies in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion based on your credit history as reported to them (which can vary from company to company). FICO scores range from 300 to 850. Bad is 500 and below. Poor and Fair range from 550-699, while 700 and above is Good to Excellent.
You actually have more than one credit score. Credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit reports. If the information about you in the credit reports of the three large consumer reporting companies is different, your credit score from each of the companies will be different. So itís important to check your credit history with each of the three reporting agencies at least annually.

There are four primary methods for gaining access to your FICO credit score:

Credit Card or Loan Statement

Check your credit card or other loan statements. Many major credit card companies and some auto loan companies have begun to provide credit scores for all their customers on a monthly basis. The score is usually listed on your monthly statement or can be found by logging in to your account online. If not, call and see if theyíll provide it to you.

Credit Counselor

Make an appointment to meet with a non-profit credit counselor. Non-profit credit counselors can often provide you with a free credit report and help you review them, maybe even helping you find derogatory items that donít belong on your report but are hurting your scores.

Utilize a Credit Score Service

Many services and websites advertise a free credit score. Some sites may be funded through advertising and not charge a fee. Other sites may require that you sign up for a credit monitoring service with a monthly subscription fee in order to get your free score. Before you sign, make sure you know exactly what youíre buying.

Purchase Your Score

You can buy your credit score directly from any of the three credit reporting companies. You can buy your FICO credit score at Other services may also offer scores for purchase. If you decide to purchase a credit score, you are not required to purchase credit protection, identity theft monitoring, or other services that may be offered at the same time. Also, when you apply for your once per year credit report it will list your transactions and status but not your score, so donít expect to see it there unless you pay extra.

Some free credit score sources provide an "educational" credit score, instead of a score that a lender would use. For most people, an educational score will be close to the scores lenders use and can be helpful for consumers. But the scores can be quite different for some. Our report found a meaningful difference for one out of four people. When choosing where to get your credit score, find out what kind of score it is. Perhaps consider using an educational score to keep your eyes open for any big swings in your credit scores, and then purchase the exact score prior to seeking credit, like an auto loan.

No matter how you access your score, itís a valuable tool to have in your possession when you enter the car dealership. If you have a high score, you have plenty of bargaining power and can access promotional low-interest loans reserved for those with excellent credit. On the other hand, if your credit score is low, donít despair. Itís just one of the factors the lender looks at. Another is your income-to-debt ratio. If you make decent money and donít have many debts, thatís very helpful. Also if your credit score is low because itís what they call ďthinĒ (few transactions) you can bring a co-signer with you. Itís even possible to refinance the car after one year if youíve made timely payments and remove the co-signer if thatís what you wish.

And remember, knowing your FICO score is a valuable tool when it comes time to purchase your next vehicle at Best Buy Used Cars.
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