There's a 100-Point Difference Between 2 of My Credit Scores. Here's Why
by Lyle Daly | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on March 18, 2021
Because of different scoring systems, you may have one credit score that's much higher than another.
Credit scores are a complicated subject. Even the way we refer to them isn't the most accurate. Most people, financial writers included, use the term "credit score." But there is no single, defining credit score. There are actually many types of credit scores for every consumer, and they're often significantly different.
To give a firsthand example, I recently applied for a Chase credit card. I monitor several of my credit scores, so I know that at the time, I had a FICO® Score of 795 and a VantageScore of 827. Those are the two most widely known credit scoring systems, but Chase sent me a letter saying it checked another type of score. It was my Card Acquisition Risk Score V2, where I had a score of 894.
That's just about a 100-point difference between my FICO® Score and my Card Acquisition Risk Score. Although this may seem crazy, it's easier to understand with some knowledge about how credit scores work.
The many different types of credit scores
The first thing to know about credit scores is that there are multiple credit score models. Each scoring model is a way of rating a consumer's creditworthiness based on the information in their credit file. It's basically a formula. For example, one scoring model may base 35% of your credit score on your payment history, whereas another bases 40% of your score on that factor. These are the two most popular credit score models:
Then, there are the less common score models, such as the Card Acquisition Risk Score V2 that Chase used with me. That is a credit score designed specifically by Chase.
You don't just have a single FICO® Score or VantageScore, either. There are several variations, as both have gone through multiple versions. FICO® Scores have been around for decades, and the newest version is FICO® Score 9. However, the most widely used is still FICO® Score 8. It's similar to VantageScore. The latest version is VantageScore 4.0, but the most widely used is VantageScore 3.0.
There are also many FICO® Scores designed for different industries. One example is the FICO® Auto Score made specifically for auto loans. That has had quite a few updates as well, from version 2 through version 8.
The main reason why credit scores can vary is because they use different scoring models. A FICO® Score is calculated using a different formula than a VantageScore. And while most credit scores use a scale of 300 to 850, that isn't always the case. Chase's Card Acquisition Risk Score V2 runs from 250 to 900.
That's why I could have a FICO® Score of 795 and a Card Acquisition Risk Score V2 of 894. They have different scales and scoring formulas.
Why your credit score can vary by credit bureau
So far, we've gone over the different credit score models but haven't covered the companies that actually calculate your credit scores. For FICO® Scores and VantageScores, there are three credit bureaus that handle this: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Each credit bureau combines a scoring model with the file it has on you to calculate that type of credit score. Let's say you're applying for a loan, and the lender wants your FICO® Score 8. The lender uses Experian. Experian would take the information it has on you and run it through the FICO® Score 8 model. The result is your Experian FICO® Score 8.
You also have an Equifax FICO® Score 8 and a TransUnion FICO® Score 8. Would these all be the same?
Not necessarily. The credit bureaus may not have the exact same information on you. A creditor could be reporting your payments to just one or two of them, instead of all three. If your credit file is different with each credit bureau, then your credit score might be different as well.
How to get good credit scores across the board
To recap, you have a bunch of different credit scores, and it'd be nearly impossible to keep track of them all. The good news is that you don't have to.
Even though credit scores aren't exactly the same, they're all based on similar factors. That means they also tend to reward the same financial behaviors. Here are some of the typical factors that go into your credit scores:
- Payment history on credit accounts (credit cards and loans)
- Credit utilization ratio, or how much of your total credit you use
- Age of your credit accounts, including the average age and the age of your oldest account
- Credit mix, or whether you have both credit cards and installment loans or just one of the two
- Recent applications for new credit
You can get good credit with every type of credit score by following a few simple steps:
- Pay your bills on time, especially credit card and loan bills. This will build your payment history, which is the most important factor in most scoring models.
- Don't carry large balances on your credit cards. Ideally, try not to use more than 20% of your credit. If you have $10,000 in total credit across your cards, your total balances should always be $2,000 or less.
- Keep your credit cards open when possible. In particular, you should hang on to the credit cards you've had the longest.
Now that you know about types of credit scores, you won't be confused if you see one of your scores that's different from another. Remember also that there's no need to stay on top of every credit score. Even if that was an option, it wouldn't be the best use of your time.
It's better to pick one or two free ways to get your credit score. Monitoring a FICO® Score is recommended, since that's the type of score lenders use most, but you can also check your VantageScore. You won't know all your credit scores, but just monitoring one should give you a solid idea of where you're at. And if you stick to those financial habits mentioned above, you'll be on your way to good credit with every scoring model.
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