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Building up and maintaining a good credit score is a great step toward achieving your financial goals. An excellent credit score can open doors to better financing for your dream home or a more reliable set of wheels. When used properly, a credit card can help you start off, continue to improve, or even build back your credit history. Your on-time monthly credit card payments count as 35% of your FICO credit score, after all.

The traditional way to find out your credit score involves contacting one or all of the credit bureaus and paying for their service to provide your score. Thanks to FICO’s Open Access initiative in November 2013, however, credit card users may be able to access their scores free, every month on their statements. More than 50 lenders, including American Express, Bank of America, Chase, and Capital One, offer their customers free credit scores.

It’s important to note, though, that the score you get on your statements may not reflect the actual score your mortgage lender or car dealership is looking at when considering you for a loan.

Case Study of a Free Credit Score

I have accumulated a few credit cards over the years, and some of those cards offer me a free credit score. I’ve looked at the credit scores indicated on my latest statements from each of these cards, and the scores vary by up to 59 points.

So, what’s going on? Which of these credit scores can I trust?

The problem is that these credit cards are all using different factors and ways to calculate the score. Some of these factors include:

  • The date my credit information was pulled;
  • The credit reporting agency they use; and
  • The type of credit score they are reporting.

Given these different factors, you can clearly see that not all free credit scores are alike. It’s important to know what credit data you’re getting to correctly evaluate your financial health.

3 Criteria to Analyze Your Free Credit Score

Based on these findings, let’s review key questions that you should ask yourself about your free credit score from an existing card, or one from a card…