FICO® scores vs. credit scores: What’s the difference?

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In a Nutshell

FICO® scores are commonly used by lenders, but FICO® scores aren’t the only measure of where your credit stands. Here are some key things to know about the different types of credit-scoring models.

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FICO® scores are commonly used by lenders to assess your credit risk, but other credit scores can also give you a good idea of where you stand.

In other words, your FICO® scores are just one type of credit score you can get. This is because FICO is a company that creates specific scoring models used to calculate your scores. But there are other companies that use different scoring models to determine your credit scores, too.

VantageScore is an example of one of these companies. Both FICO and VantageScore offer credit-scoring models to evaluate the information in your credit reports and issue a corresponding credit score. These scoring models evaluate many of the same factors when looking at your credit reports and calculating your scores, but they differ very slightly.

That’s why you may see different credit scores depending on which scoring model is used. Your scores can also differ depending on which consumer credit bureau report — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion — the scoring model pulls your information from.


The rundown on FICO® scores vs. other credit scores

There are several credit-scoring models out there, but here are a few you might want to have on your radar.

FICO® scores

Lenders started using FICO® scores, created by Fair Isaac Corporation, in 1989, and the scoring models have been updated several times since. According to FICO, more than 90% of top lenders use FICO® scores. In addition to its base versions, FICO also offers industry-specific scoring models (and scores) for distinct credit products, such as auto loans, credit cards and mortgages.

So even if you view your FICO® scores, say, through your bank, they won’t necessarily be the same scores the lender sees when you apply for credit.

Base FICO® scores range from 300 to 850 and are made up of the following important factors:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Amounts owed: 30%
  • Length of credit history: 15%
  • New credit: 10%
  • Credit mix: 10%

Depending on what your scores are, you may wonder what they mean. FICO defines the following credit ranges based on FICO® Score 8 credit scores:

  • Exceptional: 800+
  • Very good: 740 to 799
  • Good: 670 to 739
  • Fair: 580 to 669
  • Poor: 579 and below

Industry-specific FICO® scores — including FICO® Auto Score 8 and FICO® Bankcard Score 8 — have a broader range of 250 to 900. These scores are tailored to specific types of credit.

There are several ways to get free access to your FICO® scores, including from various credit card issuers. You can also check out Discover’s Credit Scorecard tool.

VantageScore

VantageScore Solutions was created in 2006 as a joint venture of the three major consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. There are four VantageScore® models, and the latest, VantageScore® 4.0, uses a range of 300 to 850.

“Data scientists don’t build a model and then just stick it on the shelf,” says Jeff Richardson, vice president of communications and public relations at VantageScore. “They’re continually testing and validating it. If there are new modeling technologies and techniques that are available or if the data changes or improves, they’ll update their models accordingly.”

To generate a score for you, FICO requires that you have at least one account opened for six months or more and at least one account reported to the credit bureaus within the previous six months.

VantageScore, on the other hand, might be able to provide more people with credit scores by using just one month of history and one account reported within the previous 24 months.

According to VantageScore, more than 2,200 financial institutions use its credit scores. The scores are based on the following factors:

  • Payment history: extremely influential
  • Age and type of credit: highly influential
  • Percentage of credit limit used: highly influential
  • Total balances and debt: moderately influential
  • Recent credit behavior and inquiries: less influential
  • Available credit: less influential

Pretty similar to the factors that FICO evaluates, right?

Here are the ranges for the VantageScore® 3.0 credit-score model.

  • Excellent: 750 to 850
  • Good: 700 to 749
  • Fair: 640 to 699
  • Needs work: 300 to 639

Proprietary scoring models

In addition to the FICO® and VantageScore® credit scores, each of the three national consumer credit bureaus offers its own proprietary credit scores. Because lenders typically don’t use these scores when making credit decisions, they’re often called “educational credit scores.”

For example, Experian offers the PLUS Score, which ranges from 330 to 830, and Equifax offers the Equifax Credit Score, which ranges from 280 to 850. Access to either of these scores may cost you.

Which credit scores does Credit Karma offer?

The model used for credit scores on Credit Karma is VantageScore® 3.0.

While VantageScore® credit scores aren’t used as widely as FICO® scores for credit decisions, they can still give you a good idea of where your credit stands. Remember, the VantageScore® model incorporates many of the same factors that are used when calculating your FICO® scores, although it may assign a different weight to certain factors.

Credit Karma shows you the different credit factors that can affect your scores and where you can work to try to improve your credit. And if you opt for credit monitoring, Credit Karma will also send you alerts when there are important changes to your credit reports, which may help you spot potential errors or fraud. Using a service like this can give you tools to help you improve your credit.


Bottom line

No matter what scores you look at, most do a good job of giving you an idea of the state of your credit. Staying on top of your credit scores can help you determine where you stand and steps you can take to improve your credit health.

“I think the best way to use these credit monitoring apps is to monitor your score[s] and look at where you fall into the range,” says Richardson.

If you check your credit scores regularly, you can keep track of how your scores are trending, work on building your credit history and address potential issues as they arise.


About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Cr… Read more.