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If you've heard people discuss credit scores, you've likely heard something akin to "Your credit score is X." This common phrasing suggests that we all have a single three-digit number that is our credit score, but that's patently false. You actually have numerous credit scores.
Credit scores are based on reports maintained by the three consumer credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax), and are calculated using sophisticated credit scoring algorithms called models. Scores tend to vary based on the credit score model being used, which is determined by your lender. While you only have three credit reports, you can have many credit scores based on each report.
Read on to learn more.
Is It Possible to Have More Than One Credit Score per Credit Bureau?
For a credit score to be calculated, a credit scoring model is used to analyze the information in your credit report, including your debt payment history, account balances and credit applications. The most commonly used scoring models in the United States are those published by FICO® and VantageScore®.
All three major credit bureaus have relationships with FICO® that allow them to use FICO®'s scoring models. With respect to VantageScore, VantageScore Solutions is a subsidiary of the credit reporting companies, which allows all three of them to use the VantageScore branded scoring models as well.
There are currently four generations, or versions, of the VantageScore credit scoring model and more versions of FICO®'s credit risk scores currently available across the three credit reporting companies. On top of the multiple versions of scoring models suitable for general use, FICO® also builds what are formally called industry-adjusted scores, which are scoring models for use by specific types of lenders, such as auto lenders or credit card issuers.
Because there are so many scoring models available, you will have numerous credit scores even with one credit bureau. When you also consider that there are three bureaus and many versions of FICO® and VantageScore risk scores, you can start to see why it is almost a guarantee that you'll have many credit scores, and they won't be the same.
To fully understand why you have so many credit scores, it's important not to confuse credit scores with credit reports. Not only are credit scores and credit reports not the same thing, but you have considerably fewer credit reports than you have credit scores. You only have one credit report with Experian, one credit report with Equifax and one credit report with TransUnion. So, just because you may have dozens of credit scores, it certainly doesn't mean you have dozens of credit reports.
Why Do I Have So Many Different Credit Scores?
In addition to the numerous scoring models commercially available, there are other reasons why you can have so many different credit scores. Even if the same scoring model is used, the score may vary from one credit bureau to another because one report may have different information than another.
For instance, a lender may report to one credit reporting company but not the other two. Or, a lender may report updates to each of the three credit reporting companies at different times throughout the month. You can check and compare all three of your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Because your credit reports can differ, your scores are unlikely to be the same. Your credit scores are determined solely by the information in your credit reports and if that information is different across your reports, your credit scores will also be different.
Another thing to know: Credit scoring models don't all use the same range of numbers when creating a credit score. The most commonly used versions of the FICO® and VantageScore models use a range from 300 to 850, but that's not universal. For example, other FICO® Score☉ versions have a 250 to 900 score range, and VantageScore versions 1 and 2 have a 501 to 990 score range.
Rather than focusing solely on the three-digit score, it's more important to understand what your score or scores mean to your lenders. If your scores are between 740 and 850, for example, then they are generally considered to be very good or exceptional and indicate very low credit risk. Conversely, scores 670 and below are considered to be fair or poor and indicate elevated credit risk.
What Makes Up a Credit Score?
What all credit risk scores have in common is they all consider information from your credit reports. Both FICO® and VantageScore credit scores consider your payment history, your debt, the age and diversity of your credit reports, and credit inquiries. The scoring models, however, do weigh the information differently, which is another reason your scores are unlikely to be the same across score brands.
If you pay all your bills on time, you will never have to worry about having a poor payment history. If you maintain reasonable amounts of debt, especially credit card debt, you will perform well in the debt category. If you only apply for credit when you actually need it, then you won't load up your credit reports with an excessive number of credit inquiries. As your accounts age, you can also see a score benefit thanks to the increased length of your credit history. If you perform well across all of these categories, your FICO® and VantageScore credit scores will likely be strong.
How Do I Know Which Is My Real Score?
Similarly to how you don't have just one score, you also don't have a "real" score. Suggesting there is a real score implies you have scores that aren't real or are, otherwise, fake. As long as a credit score is commercially available and used by lenders, it's certainly a real score, as it can influence lender decisions.
Having said that, lenders can pick and choose which scores or credit reporting agencies they'll use for their underwriting processes. The one notable exception is the mortgage industry, where the Federal Housing Finance Agency mandates the use of all three of your credit reports and three FICO® Scores.
It's unlikely you would know which credit report or which credit score model your prospective lenders will use to assess your creditworthiness. But whatever score they end up using for their decision-making process is certainly the most important score for them at the time of your application.
The good news is because credit scoring models see the same credit report information and have similar scoring categories, your scores should be directionally similar. What that means is if the information in your credit reports is positive, you'll likely have good credit scores. If your reports contain negative information such as late payments, default or bankruptcy, you may have poor credit scores regardless of the scoring model used.
This is why it's so important to build and maintain great credit reports with all three of credit bureaus. If you're able to do so, then you don't really need to worry about whether or not your lender uses a FICO® Score or a VantageScore credit score, or which report they'll use to calculate your score. They'll all be great scores that say the same thing about you, which is that you present little credit risk.
The Bottom Line
It's easier to manage three credit reports than it is to manage dozens of credit scores. This is why it's so important to periodically check your credit reports, which has become much easier thanks to free credit reports weekly through the end of April via AnnualCreditReport.com.
You can also get your credit report and score from all three bureaus through Experian or view your Experian credit report and FICO® Score 8 for free. According to FICO®, FICO® 8 has more users than any of their other scores, so it's a good score for you to check.
There are plenty of other ways to check your scores at no cost, as well. There are a number of lenders that will give their customers some version of their FICO® Score each month through FICO®'s Open Access program. You can check with your lender to confirm whether or not they participate in Open Access and how you can see your FICO® score.
You can also check your VantageScore credit scores through a variety of lenders and websites. For example, Capital One, Chase, OneMain Financial and U.S. Bank all provide free VantageScore 3.0 scores to their customers at least once per month, and even weekly in some cases.
There are so many places to get free credit reports and free credit scores that it's a simple task to check them from time to time.