Paying for your credit score may not be worth it, especially since you often can get it for free.

The question about whether you should pay rose again Tuesday after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined two big U.S. credit-reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, in part for allegedly misleading consumers into buying credit scores of dubious value. According to the CFPB, the two companies had advertised that they were selling the same credit scores used by lenders to determine whether consumers qualify for a variety of loans, from mortgages to car loans. Instead, they sold scores based on their own in-house calculations, the government agency said.

David Blumberg, a spokesman at TransUnion, said in a statement that “our consumer marketing has been clear and has complied with the law and other government guidance.” Ines Gutzmer, spokeswoman for Equifax, also said in a statement that Equifax “does not believe it has violated any laws.”

The score used by the majority of lenders is the FICO credit score, marketed by the Fair Isaac Corp. It provides a three-digit number that reflects your borrowing and repayment activity on credit cardsmortgagesstudent loans, auto loans and other forms of debt. You can buy your FICO score through the website, myfico.com, but you probably don't need to.

Instead, check with your bank, credit card company, or financial services company. Many now offer free FICO scores to their customers. Discover, the credit card company, offers free FICO scores even if you aren’t a customer.

Keep in mind that not all FICO scores are alike. The score you get from your credit-card company may be somewhat different than the FICO score you get from, say, your auto lender. Fair Isaac has dozens of different algorithms to create FICO scores, based on factors that its clients—the lenders—determine are most important. 

If you’re after such a specific score, you may have to pay for it if you aren’t already a customer of the financial institution, notes Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney for the not-for-profit National Consumer Law Center, based in Boston. Armed with such a score, you could have a better idea of how an auto lender would judge you, for example, which could help you negotiate a better rate on a loan.

Few people, though, need such specificity. According to Wu, a consumer with a good score from one scoring algorithm will likely have a good score from a different algorithm as well.

Keep Tabs on Your Credit Report

While it can be useful to know your credit score, it's even more important to regularly check your credit reports, produced by the three major credit-reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. By doing this, you can flag mistakes and fraud—such as someone setting up new credit card accounts in your name. You can then challenge that information with the credit bureaus and freeze your credit so fraudsters can't do more damage.

You can get free copies of your credit report by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You're entitled to one free copy of each report every year.  If you're ever denied credit, you're entitled to an additional free credit report from the bureau that produced the report that triggered your denial.