You’d think that after reaching an 800+ credit score, life would be all donuts and free coffee right? Well, I’ve got to admit, nobody taught me a secret handshake, or gave me a coupon for a free deep-tissue massage. Instead, life just went on like usual.
While you’ve probably heard of Fair Isaac Corporation’s FICO score before, you may not know there are actually over 60 different versions of FICO’s credit scores! Talk about overload.
In addition to 60+ different credit score versions, there are other “FAKO” scores from other distributors not affiliated with FICO such as VantageScore.
This post will go over:
* Why there are so many different credit scores
* The dominance of FICO and the new FICO 9 credit score calculation
* The three main credit bureaus
* A list of what does and what does not affect your credit score
* The three main “FAKO” scores
Think of credit scores like recipes for apple pie. There’s more than one way to come up with a credit score just like there’s more than one way to bake apple pie.
If you ask two different companies to calculate a credit score, or the same company to create a credit score for two different clients, you’re bound to get slightly different results. We’re a country that loves customization and options after all.
Credit scores can be calculated using different inputs, sources, ratios, and ranges, but at the end of the day every model is designed to represent a consumer’s credit worthiness. Of course, if any of the inputs have errors then one or more of your credit scores could be grossly miscalculated. That’s why it’s important to regularly check your scores.
The innovation by fintech firms like SoFi for student loans is using new variables to analyze creditworthiness, including schools attended, area of study, academic performance, and work history. It makes sense because how else are potentially high quality borrowers with limited credit history and employment experience ever going to get started if they don’t have an open Bank of Mom & Dad?
Don’t worry about memorizing all of the minute differences between each type of score. There’s too many to keep track of and the agencies keep their exact formulas secret anyway. Pay attention to the range of each score you look at instead. Some scoring systems are out of 850, while others may be out of 900.
In addition to having different ranges and inputs, credit scores may also be custom calculated for specific types of lending. For example, if you receive a credit score specifically tailored for getting a mortgage and another for a car loan, they won’t be an exact apples to apples comparison.
FICO has been calculating credit scores for decades and is the industry leader. They claim on their website that 90% of all U.S. consumer lending decisions are made using their scores. That includes tens of thousands of businesses, 25 of the largest credit card issuers, and another 25 of the biggest auto lenders. Chances are high you’ve received a FICO score in the past.
The most common category of FICO scores is a general risk credit score that ranges between 300 and 850. Over time, FICO has been tweaking its formulas to improve accuracy, account for changes in consumer behavior, and incorporate new data points.
FICO also has scoring calculations specific to lending type: mortgages, auto loans, bankcards, installment loans, etc. This makes a lot of sense because applying for a credit card is very different than applying for a mortgage.
FICO also has unique versions of their generic scoring system for each of the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can see how all of these versions add up to 65 in the table below based on data from Bankrate.
Don’t worry about the specific differences between the scores because FICO doesn’t disclose their input and weighting details. The majority of them are on a 300 to 850 scale but a few differ including FICO’s bankcard and auto scores that run between 250 and 900.
The total number of FICO credit scores will probably continue to go up over time. Our consumer behavior inevitably changes with time, models become outdated, and the desire for new and improved versions is endless. Older FICO models should get phased out and replaced with newer ones.
What are the building blocks that go into FICO Scores? There are five primary categories of data that are used in FICO’s models as seen in the diagram below.
When you receive a FICO credit score, it may not be one of the latest versions because many older FICO models are still in use today. Many lenders are slow to upgrade because the older versions still work. It can be expensive for lenders to upgrade their systems to use newer models. Think about how slow some companies are at upgrading their PC operating systems and you get the idea.
FICO Score 9 is the latest scoring system that was released to the three national credit bureaus in late 2014. The most noteworthy change is the impact reduction of medical debt on the total score calculation. In prior versions, medical debt was just debt. But we all know that people can get struck with serious illnesses by no fault of their own and medical bills can be outrageously expensive.
Of course not paying your medical bills and having them fall into collections is still harmful to your credit score. However the penalties won’t be as severely damaging or as long as previous versions. FICO said in their Score 9 press release, “The median FICO Score for consumers whose only major negative references are medical collections will increase by 25 points.” Notice any changes to your score?
But remember, even though FICO has released this latest version, it could take years for your lender to start using it. Since Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac are known to be very slow to change, and since many mortgage lenders use Fannie and Freddy’s standards, it could be awhile before those with medical debt find it any easier to get a mortgage.
Another improvement with FICO 9 is an increase in consistency across the different versions used at each of the three credit bureaus. This could lead to smaller variances in our credit scores between Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax making it easier for us to notice if a data point has gone awry at one of the bureaus.
What’s a credit score that’s not FICO? “FAKO” of course. Since FICO’s scoring models have dominated the realm of credit scores for so long, most people and businesses haven’t bothered with any other system. Other credit worthiness scores do exist, however. Some of the scoring ranges differ from the popular 300-850 scale, but the underlying goal of determining credit worthiness and risk is the same.
The Three Main “FAKO” scores include:
PLUS Score – An educational credit scoring model by Experian that has a range of 330 and 830. It isn’t actually used by lenders, but it intended to help consumers understand their credit worthiness.
CreditXpert Credit Score – Created by CreditXpert Inc., these scores are intentionally explained in plain English to help you understand the positive and negative factors affecting your credit quality.
VantageScore – VantageScore was launched in 2006 by none other than Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. The three bureaus came together to create VantageScore as a way to compete against FICO, increase consistency across their agencies, and also to help lenders in the subprime markets.
Even though three bureaus use the exact same model to calculate VantageScore, due to different data on each of their credit reports, such as pulling account balances at different times, the scores can still vary.
VantageScore was used by 6 of the 10 largest banks and over 2,000 lenders in 2014. Over 3 billion VantageScore credit scores were used for model building, decision making, and testing purposes last year alone. They claim VantageScore has enabled 30-35 million consumers get a credit score who couldn’t otherwise due to using credit infrequently or inexperience.
The most recent version, VantageScore 3.0, is ranged between 300 and 850. Prior versions were on a scale of 501 to 990, which created a lot of confusion. Now that VantageScore 3.0 matches FICO’s most popular score range, it’s much easier for consumers to grasp and compare. Here are a few insights on Vantage Score inputs:
Curious what your VantageScore looks like? You can get a free copy of your VantageScore 3.0 through LendingTree while also checking what the latest mortgages rates are as the 10-year yield is now back down to ~2%. I highly suggest everybody go on financial lockdown mode as the stock market is signaling tough times ahead.
Don’t let the 65 different FICO score iterations, VantageScore, and other FAKO models get you confused. Leave that headache to the lenders and let them worry about which version to use. What you can do is maintain good credit habits and make sure your credit reports are clean and error free at all three credit bureaus.
Even though there are multiple credit score models, a lot of the inputs are the same, albeit in different ratios and from varying sources. Familiarize yourself with the most common inputs below.
While it may feel like a violation of privacy to have so much personal data stored in databases and run through models you’ll never get to see, there are plenty of other personal data points that are never used in the calculations. Lenders will still ask you to provide extra data because they don’t rely on credit scores alone when determining whether or not to extend you credit.
During my unpleasant mortgage refinance experience, Chase asked a lot of questions about my assets, bank accounts, private investments, and investment accounts. Many borrowers are turning to P2P lenders to avoid dealing with so much paperwork and ultimately, rejection by traditional lenders.
You can check your latest Experian credit score directly with them for a buck. Experian is the most commonly cited credit score company among the big three. I check my score once a year due to credit errors that are unbeknownst to me and most people.
There was one time my credit score dropped to 610 from 810 without me knowing because I had a claim against me for an $8 unpaid utility bill from three years ago! Why the utility company didn’t just call or e-mail me for the $8 bucks is beyond me. The mixup almost derailed my mortgage refinance in its 3rd month. If I checked sooner, I could have avoided the heart attack.
The Federal Trade Commissions did an eight-year study that shows 25% of all credit reports have some type of error that may negatively affect your chances of getting a loan, an apartment, or even a job.
Credit errors are like hard-to-detect bugs that slowly eat away at your financial strength until one day they cripple you when you need money the most. It’s good to check once a year, just like it’s good to get an annual physical after the age of 35. You never know what’s growing inside until it’s too late.
Updated for 2021 and beyond.