Bought a look at your credit score? You overpaid

If you're paying to check your credit score, here's a news flash: You're overspending.

More than 50 million consumers now have "free and regular access" to their credit scores, according to a new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That three-digit number, often in the 300-850 range (the higher the better), is what lenders use as a measure of your creditworthiness to approve loans and set interest rates on your credit cards.

That in itself is a key reason to know your score, but there are more concerning reasons as well. "It's really crucial to check your credit reports and monitor your credit scores, especially these days, because they can be an early sign of fraud," said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com.

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One of the most common ways to check your credit score gratis these days is through credit card issuers. According to the CFPB report, "well more than a dozen major issuers" offer free scores on select cardholders' monthly statements or through online access. Those include Barclaycard US, Capital One, Citibank, Discover, and First Bankcard.

As part of an announcement on identity theft initiatives in January, President Barack Obama said that Bank of America and Chase would also begin offering free scores to consumers in 2015.

Consumers also have easy web-based options. Credit.com, CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com all allow free looks at your score and the reports that influence it.

However, keep in mind that the kinds of scores offered vary, said Detweiler. "The biggest confusion comes when people see their score from different places," she said.

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You might see a higher number from source A than source B because they're using a different calculation, base credit report and score range. When you're monitoring month to month, make sure you're using the same resource to better spot any changes.

Another common point of confusion: what to look for on your report. Most scores and reports give you a sense of how you stack up against other consumers, and what actions could yield a better score, said Detweiler. Other details to peruse include errors and red flags for identity theft.