The financial world talks about credit scores in ways that might lead you to believe you only have one. With common industry phrases like, “What’s your credit score?” and “Based on your credit score,” it’s easy to see why so many people believe in the one-score-per-person paradox. In reality, most people have multiple credit scores. And those scores can differ depending on type of score, the information a particular score contains, who’s reporting, and which scoring model is being used, among other factors.
The Purpose of a Consumer Reporting Company (also known as a Credit Bureau)
Nationwide consumer reporting companies (also known as credit reporting agencies or credit bureaus) collect and store consumer credit information—the three major companies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These companies provide individual borrowers’ credit information to lenders so they can make lending decisions and manage risk.
These companies compile credit data into credit reports, detailed breakdowns of a person’s credit history, including bill-paying habits, open lines of credit, a list of other companies that have requested to see the report, and the credit history. Consumer reporting companies and lenders use this information to build credit scoring models (a credit score). This helps lenders and others quickly evaluate consumers’ qualification for credit and insurance products.
When you apply for a loan, for example, your lender may request to see your credit report from one or more of the major companies. The lender will look at your credit profile to determine your creditworthiness. If your credit profile favorably reflects your ability to repay a loan, you’re more likely to be approved for that loan and receive a better interest rate.
Differences in Reporting and Information
Although all three major consumer reporting companies receive similar information about your credit accounts from lenders, each company might give you a different credit score depending on the exact information they have on file. These differences are sometimes the result of incomplete data, timing, and even your personally identifiable information, such as variances between the companies for your name, social security number, date of birth and address.
You now know that consumer reporting companies collect information about your financial history, but how exactly do they collect it? The answer reveals the cause of one potential difference in credit scores between companies.
Each company relies on lenders, collection agencies, courts, and other reporting entities to supply information to them. Some of these reporting entities might give their information to only one or two of the three major companies. As you might guess, the differences in information can lead to differences in credit reports and credit scores between companies.
Once account information has been reported, each consumer reporting company may have slight differences in the way they record and display credit information. In other words, even if all three companies have the same exact information, they may show it in different ways, resulting in slight variations between scores.
Related to differences in recording, consumer reporting companies may receive and record consumer credit information at different times. Because these companies rely on data furnishers, they can’t always control when they will receive consumer information. Also, once received, one company may keep that information on its credit files for a longer (or shorter) period of time than another company.
Minor differences in names can lead to fragmented credit files and inaccuracies in reporting between companies. These errors are often the result of having another person’s information erroneously applied to their report, based on simple cases of mistaken identity.
Even though individual credit scores can vary between companies, all three companies collect similar information about consumers. This means that as long as you are viewing the same type of score and score version (more on these later) at the same time, your scores should be similar. Put another way, if you have a high or low credit score with one company, you’re likely to have a similarly high or low credit score with the other companies, even if the numbers aren’t exactly the same.
Differences in Scoring Models
As if there weren’t already enough variables to consider when evaluating your credit report and determining your credit score, differences in credit scoring models—the statistical analyses used to calculate your score—can also lead to different credit scores.
Although lenders build custom credit scores for their purposes, FICO® Score and VantageScore are the two most widely used models. FICO® Score is the industry standard for scoring credit worthiness, and has been for the past 30-plus years. VantageScore is a more recent model created by the three major credit companies. Although they differ in a few key ways, both of these models measure your repayment history with borrowed money.
First, the similarities: Both FICO® Score and VantageScore calculate your credit score using the similar basic factors: payment history, length of credit, types of credit, credit usage, and credit inquires. These factors, however, are weighted differently by each model, resulting in slight variations between scores.
Now for the differences: Both FICO® Score and VantageScore vary in how they calculate credit scores based on length of credit history, late payments, accounts sent to collection agencies, and multiple credit account inquires.
Length of Credit History
FICO® Score assesses credit accounts that have been open for at least 6 months.
VantageScore assesses credit accounts with just one month of history.
FICO® Score treats all late payments the same.
VantageScore gives more weight to late mortgage payments.
FICO® Score doesn’t consider collection accounts below $100.
VantageScore considers all unpaid accounts sent to collection agencies.
Multiple Credit Inquires
FICO® Score de-duplicates multiple hard credit inquires within a 45-day span.
VantageScore de-duplicates multiple credit inquires within 14 days, but includes credit inquires of all types, including credit card applications.
Differences in Scoring Model Versions
Like your credit score itself, the algorithm used to calculate credit scores is constantly changing and evolving. That’s true for both main credit models—FICO® Score and VantageScore. Both models have different versions, just like the operating system on your computer or phone. And each model version weighs calculation inputs slightly differently, resulting in a different credit score for each algorithmic variation.
Currently, FICO 8 is the most common FICO® Score, although it’s not the newest version (that’s FICO 10). In fact, some lenders (especially mortgage lenders) still use older FICO models like FICO 2, 4, and 5.
The current VantageScore version is VantageScore 4.0. And again, depending on which VantageScore version is being used by your lender, you may see slightly different scores.
Differences in Score Type
Everything you’ve learned about credit scores so far applies only to consumer credit scores, but there are other types of credit scores, including insurance scores, bankcard scores, auto loan scores, and mortgage scores. These scores are specific to the type of loan you’re applying for and can vary depending on which scoring model a lender uses.
Specific to credit card loans, FICO® and VantageScore both have a scoring model lenders can use to make decisions about approving credit card loans with information that’s specific to that lending type. Bankcard scores follow the same basic scoring principles as other credit scores, but they’re just optimized to help lenders predict a borrower’s ability to repay credit card debt.
When applying for a credit card, your lender may decide to review your consumer credit score, or opt to assess risk in more detail by viewing your Bankcard score from either FICO® or VantageScore. Your Bankcard scores may differ, depending on which scoring model your lender chooses to look at.
Similar to how Bankcard scores are specific to the credit card lending industry, Auto Scores are specific to the auto lending industry. Both FICO® and VantageScore have models available to lenders, so your Auto Score may vary between these two models. These scores help lenders make informed decisions about approving auto loans and predict a borrower’s likelihood of repaying an auto loan on time. Auto Scores calculated based on your consumer credit score, while weighing credit history specific to repaying auto loans more heavily. In other words, your consumer credit score and your Auto Score can differ depending on how well you have repaid past auto loans on time, compared to other types of loans.
Mortgage loans usually involve high dollar amounts and greater financial risk than most other loans, which means lenders often take extra precautions before approving a loan. That means a careful review of an applicant’s current income and debt, as well as their mortgage score.
Specialized residential mortgage credit reports give mortgage companies a close look at all three scores and reports from each of the three main consumer reporting companies, and summarize this information succinctly with emphasis placed on information mortgage lenders pay special attention to. Other information that goes into determining your mortgage score includes trending credit—whether you’re paying most of your loan balances off or just making minimum payments each month.
Your credit history doesn’t just affect your ability to qualify for a loan. It can also impact your ability to receive insurance and your insurance rates. Insurance companies evaluate your credit score, along with other information, like your driving record and insurance claims history, to determine a credit-based insurance score—sometimes just called an insurance score.
Like your consumer credit score, your insurance score is used to evaluate risk. Insurance companies use your insurance score during the underwriting process to predict how likely you are to make claims that might result in financial loss for the insurance company. The higher your insurance score, the less risk you represent. The less risk you represent, the more likely you are to be approved for insurance and receive a better rate.
Each insurer uses their own model to determine your insurance score, so they may vary between insurance companies. Progressive, State Farm, Nationwide, Allstate, and Geico have provided some insight into how they calculate their insurance scores. You can contact your insurance company or look on their website to see if they have any information on how they calculate insurance scores.
It might seem confusing to have so many different scores combine to form your credit profile, but don’t get discouraged. Having different scores is a natural (and perhaps unavoidable) reality of the current credit reporting process. But when you understand the differences between score types, models, model versions, and the reasoning behind it all, you can be prepared to evaluate whatever credit score comes your way.