Editorial Policy

A new twist in card perks — FICO scores

Allie Johnson

February 21, 2014

Many credit card perks encourage cardholders to spend. So, it’s refreshing to see some card issuers offering a benefit that could help consumers manage their credit better.

Barclays, First National Bank and Discover are giving some customers regular access to their FICO scores through the FICO Score Open Access program, which allows lenders to share the scores they purchase with consumers.

Discover at first provided the perk only for Discover It cardholders, but this month the company announced a rollout to all Discover cards, including Discover More, Discover Open Road, Discover Motiva, Escape by Discover and Miles by Discover cards. And that’s not all: In addition to the score, Discover will include on monthly statements an explanation of the main factors affecting the score so consumers can better understand their credit. According to CreditCards.com, FICO spokesman Anthony Sprauve said the company is discussing the rollout of free credit scores at five other large credit card issuers, which he declined to name.

While it is possible to get “educational” credit scores — sometimes referred to as “FAKO” scores — for free, the FICO score is the one most commonly used by lenders. As ThePointsGuy.com notes, some free scores might be inaccurate, or you might have to pay to keep getting access after your initial freebie.

For continuing access to your FICO score from myFICO.com, you pay $14.95 a month (after an introductory month at $4.95), or almost $180 a year, for its score monitoring service. Or you can pay for one-time access for $19.95.

Unfortunately, my credit card issuers, Capital One and Chase, aren’t offering this benefit yet. I check my credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, but these reports don’t include a credit score.

I’ve used a free trial of myFICO.com’s service to take a peek at my score, but, as the Financial Samurai personal finance blog points out, you have to remember to cancel the trail membership if you go that route, or you’ll get charged.

As ThePointsGuy.com notes, the decision by several major card issuers to offer a free FICO score is a huge boon for consumers. Here are three pluses:

1. It gives you a specific measure of your credit. Seeing your score is kind of like stepping on the bathroom scale: You get a cold, hard number that doesn’t lie. On the other hand, when you just look at your credit report, it’s easier to think of it in vague terms. Much like dieting — “oh, my jeans feel OK, so I think I’ll have this hot fudge sundae” — vagueness can hinder progress.

2. It might help keep consumers more engaged with their finances. In a column on DailyFinance.com on the importance of credit monitoring, money coach Lynette Khalfani-Cox points out that the simple act of monitoring your credit promotes consumer engagement and awareness around credit and finances. While keeping tabs on your FICO score is just one part of monitoring your credit, it’s an important one.

3. It will help consumers learn more about how credit scores work. Consumers will be able to see how certain actions cause their score to change. And Discover spells it out for consumers, listing the top two factors from their TransUnion credit report that affected their score. And Barclaycard will offer a chart showing score history over a year.

I like the idea of this perk so much that I’ve considered applying for a Discover card. But Bloomberg recently reported that more U.S. banks might soon offer free FICO scores. So, for now, I’ll wait and hope one of my credit card issuers follows suit.