Q&A: Free credit score? Be careful

Dear Liz: As a financial planner, I am surprised you pointed someone in the direction of paying for a credit score. Your score can be accessed at several credit sites for free. Why would you want your readers to pay for something they could get free? 

Answer: As a financial planner, you should understand that “free” is a squishy concept.

Some sites do offer free credit scores in return for your private financial information, including your Social Security number. Most of these sites are committed to protecting your information — the credit bureaus they’re working with insist on that — but the sites may use your data to market financial products and services to you. As the saying goes, if something on the Internet is free, then the product being sold is you.

Many people are comfortable with that trade-off. Others aren’t. The other and perhaps more important reason to buy your credit scores from MyFico.com is that you’ll be getting numbers created from the same FICO formulas that most lenders use. The sites handing out free scores typically offer VantageScores, which is a FICO competitor. This particular reader wanted to see the auto FICO scores his lenders would use, and for that the best source is MyFico.com.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

dog holding a purse with money in its mouth. isolated on white bToday’s top story: How to save without using your savings account. Also in the news: Why you should have a separate bank account for your side jobs, the bad side to inactive credit, and how much it really costs to own a dog.

4 Ways to Save Without Your Savings Account
Under the mattress doesn’t count.

Why You Need a Separate Bank Account for Your Side Job
Keeping your money straight.

Inactive Credit: How Long It Takes, and How to Use a Credit Card to Prevent It
Not using credit can actually hurt your score.

This is how much it really costs to own a dog per year
Man’s best friend can get pretty pricey.

Q&A: Where to find FICO scores

Dear Liz: I’m looking to buy a car and I’d like to see the FICO scores that lenders use. I already visited MyFico.com, but I want another site that shows my real FICO scores for auto lending. If you could point me in the right direction, that would be great.

Answer: You were at the right site. When you buy one credit score for $19.95 from MyFico.com, you actually get several scores from the same credit bureau. Those include FICO 8, the most commonly-used score, as well as the FICOs that bureau typically supplies to mortgage, auto and credit card lenders. If you want to see FICOs from all three bureaus, you can buy them for $59.85 and get a total of 25 different scores.

The scores lenders actually use to price your loan may be somewhat higher or lower from the ones you’ll see because credit scores change all the time. But if you apply for a loan shortly after buying your scores, they should be pretty close to the ones you see.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

iStock_000015900242LargeToday’s top story: Critical steps to prepare your finances for divorce. Also in the news: Tips on taking over the family business, getting your credit back on track after moving back to the United States, and how to tell if your 401(k) is helping or hurting your retirement savings.

6 Critical Steps to Prepare Your Finances for Divorce
Protecting your assets during a vulnerable time.

Tips on Taking Over a Family Business
Making a smooth transition.

After Moving Back to U.S. From Overseas, Credit Card Is First Step to Rebuild Credit
Getting your numbers back on track.

Is your 401(k) helping or hurting your retirement savings?
Finding a best-in-class 401(k).

Monday’s need-to-know money news

1436536219414Today’s top story: Time to give your financial goals a midyear checkup. Also in the news: The statute of limitations on debt, how to save on child care, and financial concepts to teach your teen.

Give Your Financial Goals a Midyear Checkup
Checking your progress.

The Difference Between a Debt’s “Statute of Limitations” and Your Credit History
The debts that will not die.

7 Ways to Save on Child Care
Saving where you can.

5 Financial Concepts To Teach Your Teen Before High School Graduation
Get them on the right path before they leave for college.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

bankruptcyToday’s top story: Dispelling bankruptcy myths. Also in the news: The dangers of credit card checks, the fine print of your car and home insurance, and why many Americans still struggle with credit.

5 Bankruptcy Myths Dispelled
Bankruptcy mythbusting.

Don’t Cash That Credit Card Check Until You Read This
Proceed with caution.

Is it covered? Check your car/home insurance IQ
Examining the fine print.

Many Americans Continue To Struggle With Credit
Access remains a problem.

Using debt strategically: Join us!

I’m hosting NerdWallet’s first Facebook Live video, “Using Debt Strategically,” on Thursday starting at 7 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Pacific. I’ll be discussing ways to prioritize your debt and pay it off faster while building your overall wealth. Whether you’re struggling with debt or just trying to be smarter with it, I can help answer your questions. Like NerdWallet on Facebook for updates and alerts on this event: nerd.me/facebook.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

18ixgvpiu0s24jpgToday’s top story: Why you shouldn’t wait for a 401(k) to start saving for retirement. Also in the news: Cell phone options for when you’re traveling overseas, credit problems that can destroy your home-buying dreams, and five crucial retirement years for your money.

Don’t Wait for a 401(k) to Start Saving for Retirement
Don’t wait to start saving period.

Cell Phone Options When You’re Traveling Overseas
Keeping your bill as low as possible.

5 credit problems that can destroy your home dreams
Tackling issues before you buy a home.

5 crucial retirement years for your money
Years to pay attention to.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Credit report with score on a desk

Credit report with score on a desk

Today’s top story: Americans are confused over credit card fees and rewards. Also in the news: Using refinancing to pay for home renovations, taking one day a month to be your personal finance day, and how to protect your credit score.

Americans Confused Over Credit Card Fees, Rewards
Cardholders are paying extra, losing out on rewards.

Should I Pay for Home Renovations by Refinancing?
Pros and cons.

Pick One Day a Month to Be Your Personal Finance Day
Getting everything done at once.

Avoid these 3 mistakes to protect your credit score
Taking a proactive approach.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

common-retirement-mistakesToday’s top story: 5 expenses that will change when you retire. Also in the news: Questions for credit counselors, how to budget for a wedding that isn’t your own, and could we be on the verge of another housing crisis?

5 Expenses That Will Change in Retirement
Could you see more cash in your wallet?

7 Questions to Ask a Credit Counselor
Be prepared.

How to budget for a wedding — that’s not your own
Expenses add up quickly.

Are We Heading for Another Housing Crisis?
It’s getting easier to get a mortgage amid increasing home prices.