Which Credit Score is the Right One?

FICO_Score_Question_BlogPost_horizontalAs with just about any other product you can name, you have freedom of choice when it comes to buying your credit score. In fact, you have so much choice it can be baffling.

 

There are all kinds of credit scores being promoted to consumers, each with three digits, and each with its claims of unique benefits. Some are free, while others cost a few bucks.

 

How should you choose the right credit score? Here’s my advice: Get a credit score based on the model that lenders actually use to make credit decisions. That’s the best way of knowing how lenders will rate you when determining whether to grant you credit, and on what terms. The FICO Score, which is used each and every day by thousands of lenders making millions of credit decisions, is the one you need to know. Industry experts say more than 90% of U.S. lenders use the FICO Score to make credit risk decisions. No other score comes close.

 

Why is this so important? Imagine this scenario, which actually happened to a friend of mine. Wanting to take advantage of low interest rates, she decided to refinance her existing mortgage loan, and being a responsible consumer, she did her homework: she investigated the pros and cons of various home loan lenders to identify the most attractive loan package (rates, points, closing costs, etc.). She also checked her credit score to make sure she qualified for refinancing, and she was happy to learn that she had what was considered a “high” credit score.

 

So after doing her homework she went to the mortgage broker to fill out the refinancing application. The mortgage broker then pulled her credit report and FICO score as part of the process. So imagine how stunned she was when he came back and explained that she only qualified for an interest rate that was higher than she’d been expecting.

 

How could this have happened to someone who’d prepared so thoroughly? Unfortunately, it happens more frequently than you would think. The credit score my friend had obtained wasn’t a FICO Score; it was what’s known in the credit business as an “educational score,” meaning the model is not used to make actual lending decisions. Educational scores are based on different mathematical models from the FICO Score, and often use different ranges as well. So it’s not at all unusual to have an educational score of, say, 730 when your FICO Score is 678.

 

Now it’s true that there are multiple versions of the FICO Score as well, including versions for different types of credit products. But these versions are all based on the same underlying mathematical blueprint. So while your FICO Score can vary depending on which version your lender is using to make a decision, it’s by far the most reliable and accurate depiction of your credit health that you’ll find anywhere, and is the best way to help gauge how lenders will view your credit.

 

Perhaps just as important as knowing your FICO Score is knowing what factors can impact your score. Valuable financial educational content and other information about this is available – in English and Spanish – on www.myFICO.com, completely free of charge. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people participate in the free online community at myFICO.com to help each other learn about and improve their financial health. Their stories about what they’ve learned and the way it’s changed their lives can be inspiring and useful.

 

How can you learn your FICO Score? Well first, it’s worth noting that in certain circumstances, it’s possible to obtain your FICO Score directly from lenders for free. For example, federal law requires mortgage lenders to share with loan applicants the credit score(s) used in underwriting their loan application. Second there are other situations in which lenders are required to share the scores they use directly with credit applicants. You can learn more on ScoreInfo.org.

 

But really, the simplest way to learn your FICO Score, how it’s used, and what factors can affect your score it is to visit www.myFICO.com. There’s a modest fee, but in my view, it’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind you’ll have from knowing your FICO Score – the only score that really counts.

 

Tom Quinn is the Vice President of Business Development for myFICO, and has over 20 years of experience working with consumers, regulators and lenders and regarding credit related questions and initiatives.

Comments

  1. Tom Quinn is right. The fico score you get with your myfico subsctiption varies significantly from what the mortgage processors call and use for a fico score. In my consumer experience, the myfico score has been an inflated gross indicator of what the mortgage company will use.

    • Michael Cohen says:

      Thanks for your response Greg. You are correct that mortgage lenders use FICO scores and the FICO score a mortgage lender pulls on an applicant can be different compared to the score a person obtained on myFICO – the potential reasons are shared in the blog http://blog.myfico.com/2013/06/your-fico-score-based-on-experian-data-now-available/. The degree of difference (when it exists) will be different for different consumers. For example, my colleague at work is going through a mortgage refinancing right now and the FICO scores he obtained on myFICO were very close to the FICO scores the mortgage broker pulled on him. Moreover, myFICO now has scores from all three bureaus, the only place where consumers can get reports from all three bureaus. I suggest rechecking your score, as it might be more accurate to your mortgage company.

      • In My FICO my credit score looks pretty good, but at the credit bureaus it is a lot lower. I still do not understand which one will be closer to the picture a financing company is seeing.

        • doctorofcredit says:

          In general the credit bureaus are selling you a FAKO score which is not looked at by lenders. myFICO sells only real FICO scores (they came up with the algorithm after all).

          As a consumer the closest you can get to what your lender is looking at is a FICO classic score. The financing company may use an industry specific FICO score (e.g a FICO personal finance score) but only lenders have access to these specific scores.

          Don’t worry though, it’s the same underlying algorithm so your FICO classic score will be the closest you can get to. Usually there is only a few points difference.

  2. I checked my scores for a mortgage, a auto refi and credit card and they were spot on with MyFICO at my credit union scores.

  3. Patricia K Correia says:

    Lending companis tend to look at whatever score suits them at the time. There is no one place you can check your own score ahead of time with any accuracy because you don’t know which model to use. I bought a new car in Julyof 2012 and was told my FICO was 716. In August I got a letter from a company I’d been with for 11 years, no late payments, that I could no longer charge over time but must pay each new balance each month because my FICO for July was 658 and my debt ratio had increased. Then they sent another letter complaining I didn’t use their car buying program they had offered and even called me to inquire and almost protest that I hadn’t put the down payment on their card. The FICO is not same for everyone and no one uses the same model at the same time.

  4. I agree with the comment about the “difference” factor. I am not sure why the C/B report is different but it is? It would be really nice if all the credit grantors would get on the same page!

  5. I think it is always important to keep each of the 3 reports clean of issues. Typically people forget about the hard credit inquiries which can vary drastically from each report. It’s important to try to remove these inquiries at all times. It is a continuous process that can save you thousands of dollars over your lifetime!

  6. I wouldn’t worry too much about the bureau scores they are rarely used.

    • Patricia K Correia says:

      The “bureau scores” are the credit scores that are used. It’s just a matter of which Credit Bureau your lender pulls the score from or which type of score-FICO, Vantage, Plus, etc. Each one uses a different scoring model. Lenders still use these scores even when they have their own scoring models in comparison.

  7. Is there any chance myFICO will ever let consumers have access to the industry specific scores?

  8. hoinburg@gmail.com says:

    I have used a lot of different score tools and they all are different, including myfico.com. one of my scores was spot on. the other 2… 36 points off and the other 24 points off. Is that a joke? this site as accurate as creditkarma which is free. I actually compared what my mortgage lender reports showed and what shows up on myfico.com and there was no difference as far as the report but the scores were way off. for $20 a pop for an inaccurate score..not my idea of a good deal. we are still in the same place before as consumers with all of these sites started popping up promoting your “credit score”. don t get me wrong, they have good identity theft safe guard uses but as far as paying for your score…apply for the loan, talk with the lender about where you are and where they need you to get approved for what you want. oh and now one of my credit cards now offers my fako..i mean my fico score on my monthly statement which was also a completely different number than the rest. Credit bureaus are promoting a sales product, they are not helping consumers get credit back on track, they are finding another product to sell.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by a credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of a credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a credit card issuer. This site may be compensated by credit card issuers mentioned on the site by such companies.