A credit score is the equivalent of a crystal ball for a lender, helping it predict behavior (in a more scientific way of course). A lender might use a credit score to predict how risky it is to approve an application for a new credit card, how much credit to extend, and what interest rate to charge - or a combination of all of those! Insurance companies used credit-based insurance scores to determine discounts for new or current customers.
There are many different credit scores available to lenders, and they each develop their own credit score range. Why is that important? Because if you get your credit score, you need to know the range of the score you are looking at so you understand where the number you are looking at fits in.
FICO Score range: 300-850
VantageScore scale (versions 1.0 and 2.0): 501 - 990
VantageScore 3.0 range: 300 - 850
PLUS Score: 330-830
TransRisk Score: 100-900
Equifax Credit Score: 280 - 850
With all of the scores listed above, the higher the number the lower the risk. That means consumers with higher scores are more likely to get approved for credit, and to get the best interest rates when they do. And they are more likely to get discounts on insurance. What is considered a "high" score depends on what type of score is being used.
If your FICO score is 840, for example, you're just 10 points shy of the highest score possible and your credit is "superprime." But if you have an 840 VantageScore (using version 2.0), it's not as spectacular because you're 150 points away from the highest possible score.
In addition, lenders make their own decisions about what they are looking for in terms of these numbers. For example, you may need a minimum 750 VantageScore to be approved by one lender, while another might take applicants with scores as low as 700.
When you get a free credit score, you should also get information about how your credit compares to that of other consumers. With Credit.com's free credit score, for example, you'll see a letter grade for each area of your credit: payment history, debt, new accounts, age of credit history and credit inquiries. You'll be able to see which areas are strong and which may need some work.
The lesson here? When looking at your credit score, keep in mind it's not just a matter of knowing your number. It's also important to understand where that number falls on the scale being used and to know what steps you can take to make your credit is as strong as possible.