Your credit score is undoubtedly one of the most important numbers in your life.
This single figure is a numerical representation of your credit history and a potential indicator for your future credit trustworthiness in the eyes of lenders. It can indicate to them the kind of risk you might present when it comes to being approved for a car loan in Toronto, and it will be used to determine what interest rate you might be offered should you be approved.
Such an important piece of knowledge like your credit score is protected by numerous laws that ensure you can access it not matter your financial situation.
So do you actually have to pay to access your credit score?
We’ve put together a handy guide to fill you in on everything you need to know about accessing your credit score and where you can do so. Read on to find out more!
To Pay or Not To Pay?
The short answer to whether you need to pay to access your credit score is: No.
In most countries around the world, the governing bodies have laws surrounding your credit file that ensure you have access to it no matter whether you have money in the bank or not. This means that every Canadian is entitled to access their credit score for free at least once or twice per year without any penalty or obligations. Low income Canadians who would struggle to pay to access their credit score are often the ones who would benefit the most from viewing their credit files, and so this system gives them the tools they need to improve their situations.
The longer answer to the question is that while checking your credit file and score is free, there are a range of credit related products and services that companies do charge for that can help you avoid identity theft or other undesirable outcomes. These include credit monitoring and alerts to suspicious activity, which can stop you from suffering serious credit damage should your information be stolen. However, care should be taken to not assume you have to buy into these services in order to access your credit file. Many credit bureaus and companies will make their websites purposefully vague and confusing so that customers simply hand over their money in order to get a straight answer. If in doubt, simply Google “free credit score” and you’ll be presented with a direct link to access your credit score without spending any money.
So know that we know you can access your credit file for free, how exactly do you go about doing that?
If you want your credit information straight from the horse’s mouth, you can always go to Equifax.
One of the two main credit bureaus used in Canada, Equifax is the preferred option for many credit providers, from banks to credit unions. Equifax uses the FICO credit-scoring model, which is developed and maintained by the Fair Isaac Corporation. This credit-scoring model focuses on 5 key metrics to determine your credit score:
- Payment history: your previous repayments on any credit products you have taken out, specifically whether they have been on time or missed.
- Accounts owed: how much you currently owe to your credit providers, ie. how much outstanding balance you have on your credit cards.
- Length of credit history: how long you have been a credit user for. Most people will have started their credit histories with their first independent cell phone bills or credit cards.
- Credit mix: the types of credit accounts you have and the ratios of them. Good credit score customers tend to have a mix of credit cards, mortgages, and car loans.
- New credit: whether you have applied for any credit recently. A string of new credit applications in a short period of time can indicate risk and lower your credit score.
Equifax offers a free credit file service as dictated by Canadian law. You can request one through their website or by mail, however, it will take 10 days to be sent to you in either case. This is inconvenient but legal, as the law does not state that access to your credit score needs to be immediate. Equifax likely puts this delay on free credit scores to encourage users to pay for their premium service tiers.
Equifax premium services offer the usual suite of credit monitoring services for $20 per month. Some people may be able to afford this, or deem it necessary enough to pay for the membership. It will depend on your situation and concerns around identity theft.
The other credit bureau consumers can access in Canada is TransUnion.
The main competitor to Equifax, TransUnion uses a different credit-scoring model known as VantageScore. This model was actually developed as a joint effort by Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, and is now maintained and administered by a separate entity, VantageScore Solutions. VantageScore looks at six key areas to determine a credit score:
- Payment history: similar to the FICO model, this is a record of your past payments, indicating whether you paid on time or you were late.
- Age and type of credit: referring to the age of the credit account (not your actual age), this takes into account the kinds of credit you have and how long you’ve had them for.
- Credit utilization: this is defined as the amount of credit you owe divided by the total amount of credit you are approved for. If you have maxed your credit card, you would say you have a 100% credit utilization.
- Balances: the most recent balances reported by your current credit providers. This will change every month assuming you are spending or making payments on accounts.
- Recent credit: any new credit applications you have submitted will appear on your file and have a varying impact on your score.
- Available credit: how much credit you have been approved for overall. If you have been approved for a lot of credit but haven’t used much, this can be a good sign for potential lenders and can boost your score.
TransUnion similarly offers a free consumer report to every Canadian. Unlike Equifax, they allow instant access to the report through their website. However, this will not sure a single specific number as a credit score. It will provide a more thorough overview of your credit health compared to what a potential lender will see, which can be a good and bad thing depending on why you are accessing your credit file.
There are also premium services offered by TransUnion, such as credit monitoring and fraud protection. Again, this will depend on your circumstances and budget in deciding whether this is worth your money or not.
Credit Karma is another credit score checking option catering more to the internet generation.
With the rise of the internet and the expectation of instant access to information, companies like Credit Karma have gained significant popularity. This service allows for immediate access to your TransUnion credit score, using a variation of the VantageScore model known as the CreditVision Risk scoring model. This model looks at trends and data over the past 24 hours as opposed to the moment-of-query data used in other more traditional models.
The benefits of Credit Karma are obviously its immediacy and ease of use. The sign up process is quick, simple, and doesn’t require credit cards or any other kind of payment information. Your score is calculated straight away, and you can get a basic overview of your credit file. This can help you get an idea of what potential credit providers will see when they access your TransUnion credit file and help you gauge whether you will be approved for a new line of credit or not.
Another extremely popular tool in Canada is Mogo.
This company is based off the same business model as Credit Karma and allows consumers to access their credit scores quickly and easily for free. Completely Canadian owned and operated, Mogo bases its scores off Equifax, giving customers access to the other main credit score used by credit providers. You will be able to see what your score currently is, how it has changed over the past 6 months, what credit accounts are currently reported on your account, and basic account balance information.
The Mogo web portal is extremely well designed and easy to use, requiring just some basic personal information to get started. Once you have signed up for their free service, you can then choose to pay for their premium products if you so wish. These are the same as those offered by the other credit bureaus, however, the Mogo interface is definitely the slickest and most geared towards Millennials. Whether this option is right for you will depend on your circumstances.
Another convenient option for Canadians looking to access their credit score is through LowestRates.ca.
This website is actually a comparison tool that aims to collect offers and deals from different financial institutions into one easy to read place. This allows customers to easily compare different options to find the best deal that works for them. This can save you time and money if you’re in the market for a new line of credit.
LowestRates.ca also offers a free credit score checking service built right into their website. It’s free, easy to use, and pulls data from Equifax to generate your score. The added bonus of doing this through LowestRates.ca is that your score can then be used to tailor the comparison tool to display deals and bonuses that would only be available to customers with your level of credit. This can be a great option if you have good credit and are in the market for a new credit card or car loan in Toronto, as you can see what the competing companies are willing to offer to someone with a good score.
Improve your credit score
Once you have access to your score, you might be shocked to see that it isn’t where you had hoped. All is not lost, however, as there are many things you can do to improve your score. Keeping your credit utilization ratio to under 30%, maintaining unused credit accounts with zero balances, and having a good mix of credit accounts can all boost your score over time.
Another fantastic way to improve your credit score is through a car loan. Autoloan.ca is the leading provider of car loans in Toronto, specialising in car loans for customers with bad credit. We utilise our wide lender network to secure the lowest possible interest rates, and we even deliver your new car anywhere in Ontario – all for free! If you’re ready to get into the car of your dreams, contact us today.