There are lots of great personal finance apps out there and Mint remains one of the most popular for those who need a little help keeping up with their monthly budget. Mint makes it even easier to get a grip on your financial situation by offering free credit scores to its users. You may have seen an offer to obtain your free score after logging into your Mint account, but chances are, you don't know what the difference is between a free score and one that you pay for from FICO.
The Mint free credit score joins the ranks of those offered by services like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, and most recently, certain banks and credit cards.
If you're a current Mint user or you've recently noticed your bank or credit card issuer are also offering these free scores, learn the difference between these free scores and your actual FICO score.
Do You Trust Those Credit Scores?
One of the biggest misconceptions that people tend to have about their credit score is that they have just one. In reality, the average person has dozens of credit scores and chances are, none of them are the same. That disparity is especially evident when you're looking at free scores versus a FICO score you purchase from the Fair Isaac Corporation.
FICO scores are calculated using a specific algorithm that looks at your payment history, account balances, the types of debt you owe, the age of your accounts and how often you apply for new loans. The free scores offered by Mint and other credit monitoring services take these same things into account, but the way the information is used differs.
FICO Credit Score Factors and Their Percentages
|FICO credit score factors||Percentage weight on credit score:||What it means:|
|Payment history||35%||Your track record when it comes to making (at least) the minimum payment by the due date.|
|Amounts owed||30%||How much of your borrowing potential is actually being used. Determined by dividing total debt by total credit limits.|
|Length of credit history||15%||The average age of your active credit lines. Longer histories tend to show responsibility with credit.|
|Credit mix||10%||The different types of active credit lines that you handle (e.g., mortgage, credit cards, students loans, etc.)|
|New credit||10%||The new lines of credit that you've requested. New credit applications tend to hurt you score temporarily. Learn more about FICO credit score|
If you compare one free score to another or to an official FICO score, there's going to be some variation based on how each one is calculated. They can also be affected by differences in your credit reports. For instance, if you've got an account in good standing that's showing up on your Equifax file but not the other two, the free score associated with that report is most likely going to be higher.
Mint vs. Other Scoring Models
The credit score that Mint users can access for free isn't a standard FICO score. Instead, it's based on a calculation model developed by Equifax that draws on the information found in your Equifax credit profile. By comparison, Credit Sesame's free score uses data from Experian while Credit Karma relies on information in your TransUnion credit report.
In terms of how Equifax scores compare to other credit bureau scoring models, all three will offer different results, based on what information is in your credit file and how the scores are actually computed. Mint users have an average score of 705, according to the website. Equifax scores range from 280 to 850, so that would put you in the "Good" range. To put it into perspective, a score of 705 would be considered "Excellent" on the FICO scale, but it would just be average if you're looking at your VantageScore.
Using Mint's Score Effectively
When you check your credit score through Mint, you also get a detailed breakdown of what's in your credit report (which is not to be confused with credit score). Some of the categories within the report are your credit card usage, payment history, age of your credit, inquiries and negative marks. Mint also takes things one step further by explaining how the different information in your report impacts your score and offering advice on how you can improve it.
If you find errors or inaccuracies or there's something that looks suspicious, there's nothing Mint can do to change the information. You'll have to contact Equifax to initiate a dispute or request that a fraud alert be placed on your account. When you trigger a fraud alert, the reporting bureau is required to notify the other two. If you're dealing with incorrect information, however, you'll have to initiate disputes with the other bureaus directly.
Getting Your Free Credit Report
Federal law allows consumers to get a free credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus once each year. In most cases, you can also get a copy of your report through one of the free credit monitoring services. The catch is that the information it displays is limited to a single reporting bureau, so unless you're registered with multiple services, it's a little tougher to pick out inaccuracies from one report to the next.
Does Checking Free Scores Hurt Your Credit?
When a lender looks at your credit profile, it generates what's known as a "hard pull," which means it shows up on your credit report. Ten percent of your FICO score is based on the number of inquiries you have for new credit. When you're applying for a mortgage loan, multiple inquiries made within 30 to 45 days usually only count as one, depending on which formula is being used.
If you're checking your score for free, it typically counts as a "soft pull," so it shouldn't show up on your score. Getting your credit report for free, either through one of the credit monitoring services or AnnualCreditReport.com, also won't cause any damage.
When It Makes Sense to Pay for Your Score
Checking your Mint free credit score or ones offered from other companies is a good way to gauge what you're doing right and wrong when it comes to your credit. If you're working on paying down debt, for instance, you'll be able to see what kind of an impact it's having on your score as you go. Still, there are a few situations where it might be worth to shell out a few bucks (around $20) to for an official FICO score.
If you're planning to buy a home in the near future, for example, you need to know exactly what lenders are going to see when they check your credit. If you're going on the free scores alone, you might assume that your score is higher than what it actually is, only to find out the hard way when your loan application is denied.
Another scenario where you might benefit from paying for your score is if you've gone through bankruptcy in the recent past. When you're checking your score, you also want to be looking at your credit report from all three bureaus to make sure any accounts that were discharged in the bankruptcy are showing up correctly. If they're not, you need to address them right away so your score doesn't suffer anymore.
Although the free vs. FICO scores differ, the free scores help to give you a better sense of where you stand, financially. Don't let the "free" deter you from grabbing your score from Mint, your bank, or your credit card.