BOSTON (CBS) – Credit scores are a quick and easy method for creditors to judge you as a potential customer. At one time creditors kept all information about credit scores a secret.

Your Fico credit score is the gold standard here. Most creditors use this score to make a judgment on your ability to pay back a loan or pay your bills on time.

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My Fico will sell you copies of your credit scores for $19.95 each and they have good information on their website on how to improve your score.

The three credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian can offer you their version of a credit score, the Vantagescore. Their grading system is now similar to the FICO score.

There are places on line that will give you a free credit score. But it’s not your Fico score. Credit Karma does that. I got my credit score from them and it is free and they never asked for a credit card number and only the last 4 digits of my Social Security number.

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A word of caution about the free credit scores, both Fandango and Credit Karma just settled with the FTC regarding charges that they deceived consumers by failing to securely transmit sensitive personal information.

What I received from Credit Karma was my Transunion score of 800 which is calculated by Transunion using the information they have acquired on me. It is different than my score at which was 779.

Credit scores are important for a lender looks at the score and will determine by that score what interest rate you will be charged for your mortgage or credit card. If your score is below 720 it may be difficult to qualify for a new credit card.

Insurance companies look at the score and determine if you are a good risk or if they should charge you higher rates. A landlord will look at the score to see if you pay your bills on time.

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One more thing: The higher your score the lower your interest rate will be when you apply for a mortgage. The difference between a good score and a poor one with a $300,000 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage could be a savings of over $3,000 a year in interest.