Q. What’s the catch with those companies that offer free credit scores?
— Curious

A. You’re right to wonder because like they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Every consumer has multiple credit scores.

The industry leader is the FICO score. Then there’s Vantage Score, a competitor to FICO. These are the two main scores lenders will look at before offering you credit.

When you purchase your credit score from the credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax or TransUnion — you’re getting that bureau’s version of your FICO score.

Your score will be different with each because each of the bureaus has different information about you in their credit reports. That’s because lenders are not required to report to all three bureaus, so your scores may be based on different information.

So even if all the information is accurate, the scores will still vary slightly.

These credit scores aren’t free. You can buy them, or get them “free” when you sign up forcredit monitoring or other services from the credit bureaus.

Then there are the free ones that are offered by a host of credit web sites.

These sites have created their own versions of credit scores. In most cases, they’re close to the ones you’d get from the credit bureaus, but they’re not exactly the same. That’s because they use different scoring models.

In most cases, though, the free ones will be close to your actual scores. Just not exact.

So is there a catch with free credit scores? Not really — as long as you understand they’re not necessarily the scores lenders will view.

You can get your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Click here to sign up for the NJMoneyHelp.com weekly e-newsletter. Like NJMoneyHelp.com on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.

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