“Help! I’m really confused! I got all 3 of my credit scores online last week and they looked really good. Today I applied for a mortgage and the scores the lender pulled look totally different. All 3 scores are about 50 points lower than the scores I saw online. Thankfully, my scores were still high enough to get a mortgage loan, but why are the scores so much lower today?”
In the credit world there are few things which frustrate and upset consumers more than discovering the sometimes vast difference between consumer credit scores and the credit scores used by lenders. Popular TV commercials for credit monitoring websites often confuse consumers and lead them to believe that they have only one credit score. However, the truth is that there are actually hundreds of different types of credit scores. The idea that you have one "official" credit scores is a complete myth.
Consumer Scores Vs. Lender Scores
While there are hundreds of credit scores available, most of these scores can be boiled down into one of 2 categories - consumer scores or lender scores. (Insurance companies often use credit based insurance risk scores as well, but for the purpose of this article those scores will fall into the "lender" category as well.) Consumer scores are scores that are accessible to you individually. You can purchase these scores from the credit bureaus directly, from FICO directly, or from a host of consumer credit monitoring websites. Some websites will offer you free credit scores in exchange for signing up for a trial offer of their credit monitoring services. Other websites will offer you a free score from 1 of the 3 major credit bureaus (not all 3) in exchange for your email address and the right to advertise financial services to you. CLICK HERE if you would like to compare websites where you can access your 3 consumer credit scores.
Lender scores are almost always some version of a FICO score. There are some lenders which have begun using VantageScore credit scores (a score created by the credit bureaus themselves) in recent years, but FICO is still the most popular lender score in use today by a landslide. Both FICO and VantageScore have released multiple generations of their credit scoring software. Additionally, FICO scores come in many varieties (FICO Mortgage Score, FICO Auto Score, FICO Personal Finance Score, FICO Installment Loan Score, etc.) and each different FICO score variety typically has different versions in use as well. If today you were to pull a copy of your consumer credit scores, have a mortgage loan officer pull your credit scores, and have an auto lender pull your credit score then you have almost a 100% chance of getting a different set of numbers every time. Credit scores can vary pretty wildly depending upon which credit scoring model is being used to calculate them.
Focus On Healthy Credit
If you are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed as you try to keep track with all of the different possible credit scores, you are not alone. Remember the statement above revealing that you have hundreds of credit scores? It would be practically impossible for a consumer to keep track of each one of these scores individually. Instead of spending time and energy focusing on the numbers, it is much better to focus on the health of your credit as a whole.
The fact of the matter is that all credit scores are based upon the same data. Your credit scores are calculated from the information which is contained in your credit reports. (Don't forget, you can get a copy of all 3 of your credit reports, without scores, completely free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com.) If your credit reports show that you routinely make late payments on your accounts, your scores will suffer regardless of who pulls them or which credit scoring model is used to calculate them. If you have clean credit reports with no collections, no late payments, and low credit card balances then all of your many scores will likely be in great shape. You may have hundreds of scores, but you only have 3 credit reports. You may not be able to control your credit scores, but you can absolutely control your credit management habits.
Michelle Black is an author and a credit expert with nearly 2 decades of experience, the credit blogger at HOPE4USA.com, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars on various credit and financial topics. She is an expert on improving credit scores, credit reporting, correcting credit errors, budgeting, and recovering from identity theft.