Discover Financial Services, the credit-card lender with the second-lowest default rate among the biggest U.S. issuers, will provide credit scores to customers at no cost.

Card holders will have access to their FICO scores, the most widely used credit-grading formula by U.S. lenders, on their monthly bill, the Riverwoods, Illinois-based firm said today in a statement. The offering begins today for customers of the "Discover it" card and will be provided to all other clients in the next few months, the company said.

Discover said it is the first major credit-card issuer to provide free FICO scores directly to card holders. Barclaycard US, a unit of London-based Barclays Plc, and First Bankcard of Omaha, Nebraska-based First National Bank of Omaha also are offering free credit scores, FICO, formerly known as Fair Issac Corp., said in a Nov. 4 statement.

"Consumers know that credit card, financial services, the industry, has a lot of information," Julie Loeger, senior vice president of brand and acquisition at Discover, said today in a telephone interview. "We are just helping to pass that useful information on to our consumers in order to create long-term loyalty."

FICO scores are used in lending decisions such as applications for credit cards and interest rates on home loans. Previously, consumers who wanted to see their scores typically had to buy them through FICO's website or sign up for a free trial subscription to its monthly score-monitoring service, unless they were denied credit or received less money than they sought in a loan application.

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