There are few numbers in life that matter as much to your financial outlook and well-being as your credit score. However, confusion is the norm for consumers when it comes to this important financial gauge.
The history of credit scores
Prior to the creation of standardized credit scores, lenders and loan officers would often develop their own "score card" to assess the risk of lending to a particular borrower. This score card could vary drastically from one lender to the next. The major issue with this original method was that it was based on a loan officer's ability to judge risk, rather than a common set of rules and specific calculations.
So, in the 1980's, the Fair Isaac Corporation set up the first general purpose credit scoring system based on credit bureau information in order to help remove the inherent inconsistencies that arose from having each lender perform their own credit diagnostics. It has since become known as the FICO score and the algorithm has been widely adopted by America's largest credit reporting agencies.
Why would my score differ between credit agencies?
The three major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you're seeing different scores from each bureau, there could be a few reasons for this. Here are some of the most common ones.
- The scores are from different dates. Since your score can change at any time, it's important to compare credit scores from the same date.
- The scores were calculated using different scoring models. We'll get into this in the next section, but it's important to know that there are many scoring models out there. When you compare scores among bureaus, make sure they are calculated using the same model. Even with the same model, your scores could vary because each bureau may store information or calculate the score a little differently.
- The information in your credit reports varies among credit bureaus. This actually isn't uncommon. Some lenders report to all three credit bureaus, but others report to just two or one or none at all. The information in your credit reports may also be updated at different times at each bureau. In other words, one credit bureau may be missing an account or other information that either helps or hinders your score.
Of course, it's also a good idea to check your credit reports for errors periodically since an error could affect your score. You can check your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports for free on Credit Karma and your Experian report on www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Why would my score differ between the same credit agency?
Like a thumbprint, no credit score model is exactly the same. Each credit score model has a slightly different formula for weighing credit score factors. The credit bureau can use dozens of different credit score models based on the requirements of different lenders. As an example, a mortgage lender may use a different scoring model than an auto lender because they each place importance on different factors.
Though your scores may vary, they're all based on information in your credit reports. So focusing on what's in your reports could help you build your credit overall.
Other available scores
While FICO is the most famous, there are several other versions and providers of credit scores, such as VantageScore, NextGen, BEACON and EMPIRICA. Some scores are directly developed by credit bureaus, while others are developed by outside companies.
You have more than one credit score. In fact, you probably have dozens. [Tweet this]
Is there a "best score"?
In a word, no. In order to protect revenues, credit reporting agencies will often position their scores as the best or the most predictive. In reality, all scores must adhere to similar guidelines to be truly predictive, regardless of the final output number. All credit scores are built from the same base set of data and statistical procedures.
Like many products and services in the marketplace, there are a plethora of different options for you (and the businesses that serve you) to choose from, simply because every buyer is different. Based on cost and effectiveness in each buying situation, there are credit scores for sale to satisfy each customer.
Just as a point of reference, it may be important for you to know what the score ranges are for each of the major scoring systems. The higher your score, the better, as it is a general gauge of your overall creditworthiness in the eyes of lenders.
- FICO Score: 300 -850
- Score from Experian: 330-830
- Score from Equifax: 300-850
- Score from TransUnion: 300-850
- VantageScore 3.0: 300-850
Because there are hundreds of credit scores that measure many different probabilities, consumers generally do not need to be overly concerned with the type of score or even their number. It's also important to note that your credit score is a variable which can change every time your credit report changes. For these reasons, monitoring changes within a single score over time can be a better way to gauge your overall credit health.
These complicated facets of credit scores are exactly why we developed Credit Karma. By keeping the bureau and credit scoring model consistent, we are hoping to provide consumers with a single, easier-to-follow point of reference on their credit health. Best of all, it's always free to check your credit score with us. In this way, you can access your score as often as you want and always have a consistent baseline to better understand how your score is changing.
Editorial Note: The opinions you read here come from our editorial team. While compensation may affect which companies we write about and products we review, our marketing partners don't review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Our content is accurate (to the best of our knowledge) when we initially post it, but we don't guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. You can visit the company's website to get complete details about a product. See an error in an article? Use this form to report it to our editorial team. For questions about your Credit Karma account, please submit a help request to our support team.
Advertiser Disclosure: We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.
Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.
Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.