Your FICO® credit score impacts your life in very significant ways - more than you are even aware of it. Lenders scrutinize it before giving you loans; potential employers commonly use it as part of the vetting process; landlords may screen it before renting out a place to you; even insurers check on your score when calculating your insurance premiums!

This 3-digit score sums all of the parts of your credit history and credit risk, and ranges from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the better. Most people in the US still do not know why your personal credit score is so important and where and how you can check on your own credit score.

Having a clean and good credit report is a one thing, maintaining it is another.

It's essential to maintain a good credit report as it can have a significant impact on your life - both financially and non-financially. Neglecting your credit report will mean a more difficult life for you as you get turned down for cheaper auto and mortgage loans, attractive low interest offers and perhaps even a nice rental place. It could even cost you your dream job.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, US residents can get a free copy of their credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. But there's a catch! Your free credit report doesn't include your credit score, so if you want to know what your credit score is, you have to pay a small fee for it.

So How Can I Get My FICO Credit Score For Free?

You can get your credit report for free from the official government website AnnualCreditReport.com, but it doesn't come with your credit score. And as mentioned above, you can only get one credit report from each bureau once every 12 months for free, so if you would like to check it more than once from each bureau during the 12-month period, you have to pay for it.

At any given time, you should generally have 3 credit reports (and hence 3 credit scores), based on the credit report information compiled by each of the 3 credit bureaus.

"Free credit score" offers are rampant both on TV and online, and consumers may even get such unsolicited email offers in their inbox when they are really just phishing attempts (getting you to input your private information so they can steal your identity).

The only way to get a free FICO credit score is to sign up for a free trial with one of the credit bureaus. To get your free credit reports or free credit scores from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion, you must sign up for the trial offer and provide your credit card information (you need to first have a credit card) for the 24 hour credit report monitoring service. This is the string attached.

Some consumers may cry foul and call this a scam but it is not. It is just a clever marketing strategy. If there is a free trial offer, it will be stated clearly, and if it is not, it will not be stated at all.

To get your credit report and credit score for free, simply sign up for one of the free trials, get your credit report and score, then cancel before the trial period ends so that you pay nothing for your credit report and score.

If you don't mind paying to keep track of your credit score then consider myFICO Score Watch which provides your FICO® Score and Equifax credit reports (2 times per year). You also get other useful benefits, such as tools that help you plan your credit decisions and find the lowest mortgage and car loan rates based on your credit score. Whenever there is a change in your credit score you will be alerted by email, text or via their app. $4.95 for the first month, then $14.95 a month.

A Credit Monitoring Service Helps Protect Against Identity Theft

Some of you may want to continue getting the benefits of a paid credit report and credit score tracking service, and if that's the case, just stay on with the membership (which I did with mine). But if you just simply want to get a free credit report and score, just remember to cancel your membership before the trial ends.

Having a credit report tracking service (you pay a small fee) is an effective way of protecting ourselves from identity theft. With your name, your Social Security number and address, someone can easily steal your identity and apply for loans or credit cards in your name, rack up huge bills which you will be responsible for paying.

In 2009, identity theft rose to 11.1 million US victims, up 12% from 9.9 million in 2008, with a total cost of $54 billion. In short, the consequences of identity theft can be devastating to your finances and life.

One of the main reasons why I stay on with my membership is the benefit of having a credit report tracking service, which notifies me whenever there are major changes to my credit report, such as new accounts open in my name (first sign of identity theft), a credit card balance increase, a new inquiry, late payments or change of address. This way, I'll know if I've been a victim of identity theft or if there are any clerical errors in my credit file which I should correct so as not to jeopardize my credit score.

If your service comes also with credit score monitoring, it is even better as they will alert you when there are any major changes to your report which cause your score to drop. I also get to see a detailed explanation of my score, and what kind of interest rates I could get with my score.