Getting free access to consumer credit scores is becoming easier. In recent years, more credit cards and lenders have been making free scores, including versions of the widely used FICO score, available to their customers.
Now, Discover has gone one step further and is making FICO credit scores available free to anyone — even to people who don't have a Discover card and may have no interest in getting one.
The scores are available to consumers who register online at Discover's "Credit Scorecard" feature (http://tinyurl.com/gm5ozht). "They do not need to apply for a card" to obtain a score, said Julie Loeger, chief marketing officer for Discover.
Credit scores are three-digit summaries of the information available in your credit report. They are used by lenders to determine whether to give you a loan and what interest rate to charge. Discover says FICO scores are used by 90 percent of major lenders.
Why would Discover and its partners, FICO and the credit bureau Experian, which provides the data used to create the scores, want to offer the scores free?
Loeger said the company received a big response when it began offering free FICO scores to its card customers in 2013 and has gradually been broadening its offerings. "We got a lot of very positive feedback," she said. (The programs differ slightly. FICO scores offered to existing Discover customers are based on credit data from TransUnion, another major credit bureau.)
Discover also hopes, of course, that the feature will help attract new customers to its credit cards. "I'm not going to say we don't want to be America's favorite credit card," Loeger said.
There may be offers for Discover cards embedded on the website and links that compare the card with other offerings, Loeger said, but there is no obligation for users to click on them. "It's not a super hard sell," she said.
The company also pledges on the website that it won't sell consumer data to outside companies.
John Ulzheimer, an expert on consumer credit, said increased competition faced by FICO from other credit score providers, like VantageScore, as well as greater scrutiny of credit bureaus from regulators, were probably factors in the increased access to free scores. There are now so many options for free scores that it doesn't make sense for most consumers to pay to get one, he said. "If you can't get a free credit score," he said, "you're not really looking."
Here are some questions and answers about credit scores:
What information must I provide to get a free score from Discover?
To obtain their scores, consumers must register and provide basic information like their names and addresses, as well as their Social Security numbers. They must also answer security questions, similar to those asked when consumers obtain their free credit reports online. The questions might ask a consumer to confirm a previous address or ask the name of their mortgage lender.
Is the Discover offer for a single, one-time credit score?
Discover says consumers can look at the score at any time and that it will be updated at least every 30 days.
Where can I get a free copy of my credit report?
You are eligible for a free copy of your credit report (annualcreditreport.com) once a year from the major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax is the third major credit reporting bureau, along with Experian and TransUnion).
Tips for obtaining your report and maintaining a good score are available on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's website (http://tinyurl.com/hr69ogx).