If you’re not in the habit of applying for credit, you might want to look up your credit bureau report. There are three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax), and they are required to give you one free report each year. Companies like Credit Sesame and Credit Karma give you a free credit score based on credit bureau data.
Note that this score is not your FICO score. FICO stands for “Fair, Isaac Company”, the company that pioneered credit scoring, and FICO scores are used by banks for lending decisions. The formulas used to calculate them are kept secret, but the factors are broadly known. As per myfico.com, 35% of the score come from your payment history, 30% from amounts owed, 15% from length of credit history, 10% from new credit, and 10% from types of credit used. That “10% from new credit” is important to us–many folks think that applying for new credit cards destroys your credit, but it does not.
The number you’d get from Credit Sesame and other similar services is not a FICO (it’s sometimes jokingly referred to as a “FAKO”), but it’s a respectable approximation of what your FICO score would actually be. If you want to, you can get a free FICO score (the real thing) by signing up for a 10-day trial of Fair, Isaac’s ScoreWatch product. A free FICO monitoring service is also available to customers of Digital Federal Credit Union.
Note that careful FICO score management is not a requirement for playing the credit card game. Some people do this and some don’t. I’ve never watched my credit score closely as it’s always been pretty good (mid-700s to low 800s). So far I’ve never had a problem, though that’s not to say you won’t.
The only people I’d strongly urge to watch their credit score are people with a thin credit file (primarily young adults and immigrants) and people who are working black marks (late payments, etc.) off their records. And if you have no idea what your FICO is, I’d at least sign up for a FAKO service and get a ballpark estimate of where you are….but first check to see if any of your current credit card issuers offer a free credit score. Your score should at least be in the 700s.