Imagine that you are going into a lender’s office prepared to apply for and receive a loan. You know what your credit scores are and you even got one score from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax. Experian, and TransUnion. You are shocked when your loan is denied, or maybe you were approved, but the interest rate is much higher than you anticipated. How can that be you say? My credit score is good, I know I checked. Maybe it’s not as good as you think. It all depends on where you got it and what kind of credit score it is.
The fact is there are several different credit scoring methods. Credit scores calculated from the same credit reports can differ substantially from credit scoring method to credit scoring method. So how can you ever know what your credit score really is? Well, luckily, 75% percent of lenders use FICO scores exclusively and you can purchase FICO scores yourself–you just have to know where to go. (http://www.myfico.com)
FICO credit scoring is a numeric method of scoring your creditworthiness developed by Fair Isaac and Company. Your credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that tells creditors how likely you are to pay your bills. The higher the number, the better it looks to potential lenders and creditors.
The three major credit bureaus each have their own version of the FICO score: 1Equifax uses the Beacon system, 2TransUnion uses the Empirical system, and 3Experian uses the Experian/Fair Isaac system. Despite each credit bureaus’ use of their own versions, all systems are based the original Fair Isaac FICO scoring method, so each credit score calculated with these systems are generally called FICO scores. However, although most lenders do use FICO scoring, some lenders may have their own scoring methods.
Adding to the confusion is the credit bureaus themselves. Recently, Experian revealed that the national average credit score of its consumers is 678. This is very misleading to the average consumer. When you buy your credit report and score directly from Experian’s website, you are getting what they call the “PLUS Score,” which is NOT a FICO score, and is NOT used by lenders anywhere. (Equifax is the exception–you can buy your FICO score directly from them at their website; however, the only place to get all three scores together is at http://www.myfico.com.) The 678 PLUS Score reported by Experian is actually the average of consumers’ PLUS Scores, not their FICO Scores.
It can be clearly seen that the PLUS Score (and all Non-FICO scores) are useless. Not only that, but such hype misleads consumers into purchasing their PLUS Score thinking that they are getting the same credit score that their lender will use. Non-FICO scores are worthless no matter what the credit bureaus or any website selling non-FICO scores claim. Even a few points difference in your credit score can mean confronting the reality of the loss of thousands of dollars out of your pocket–a loss that you probably didn’t plan for. The next time you want the most accurate credit score available, do yourself a favor and get the industry standard: the FICO credit score.