It only takes 5 minutes to check your credit score—here's how to do it for free


CNBC Make It is posting a new financial task to tackle each day for a month. These are all meant to be simple, time-sensitive activities to take your mind off of the news for a moment and, hopefully, put you on sturdier financial footing. This is day nine of 30.

Your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your financial life. The three-digit score is used by banks, lenders and other institutions to determine which products and loans you can access and how much they cost you, including mortgages, credit cards, renting out an apartment and more.

If you don't know what your score is, or haven't checked it in a while, take five minutes to do so today. This can give you a snapshot of your financial health.

There are plenty of ways to do this for free. First, start with your credit card issuer or bank, many of which offer free credit score services to their clients.

If that's not an option, these resources will also give you your score for free, even if you're not their customer:

Your FICO credit score, which is most commonly used by lenders, can range between 300 and 850. A score of 670 is considered "good;" 740 or higher is "very good;" and 800 is "exceptional," per FICO. Despite a persistent myth, checking your credit score will not lower it.

If you have a little more time, you can make a plan for bumping up your score. But remember, it takes around six months to see an appreciable difference in your score.

Here are a few ways to improve your score:

  1. Pay your bills on time and in full every month. Payment history makes up 35% of your credit score and is the most important factor. Ideally, you will want to pay off the full amount you owe, but at least make the minimum payments every month.
  2. Sign up for auto-pay on all of your accounts. This will ensure that you pay on time.
  3. Keep your balance in check. Your credit utilization rate, or how much of your balance you are using at any one time, is also an important score determiner. Aim to use up no more than 30% of your available credit.

You can access your credit report — which offers a more holistic view of your finances, including your complete payment history and all accounts in your name — for free once each year from each of the three main credit bureaus. But pulling these reports will not give you your score.

Your credit score isn't the only measure of your financial health, but if you plan to buy a house in the next few years or you want to refinance your student loans, having a higher score will help you get better deals.

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