You often hear people talk about their credit score, but it should be scores, as you have more than one. In fact, you have many — and not every person has the same number. Think of credit scores as the variety pack of cookies you can get at the store, only instead of having different flavors, shapes and sizes of cookies, you have multiple credit scores from different credit reports, and on a variety of scales. But just how many credit scores are there? It can be hard to pinpoint a specific number, since, well, the possibilities are essentially endless, but here are some of the main credit scores you should be aware of.
The Credit Bureaus
The three main credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — each compile their own credit report and don’t share information with each other, so the information on each of their reports may be different. Because of this, each agency has its own credit score, so there are three scores to start. The bureaus generally work with the two main scoring models VantageScore and FICO (we’ll get to that one soon).
“To keep up with changing behavioral trends, innovation and advances in the availability of data, model developers such as VantageScore update models to ensure they are as predictive as possible,” Jeff Richardson, a VantageScore spokesperson, said. “We have introduced three models since our inception in 2006.”
FICO, also known as the Fair Isaac Corporation, is the other main scoring model. FICO scores can be industry specific, based on the type of loan to which a consumer is applying, or customized for client-specific needs. FICO began scoring in 1989 and has updated its formulas over the years, so many lenders use different versions, adding to the list of available credit scores. In fact, many reports put the number at around 50 FICO scores alone.
Back in 2014, the company launched FICO 9, which was updated to include reported rental history, as well as lessen the negative impact of unpaid medical collection accounts and paid third-party collections.
Other Types of Credit Scores
Richardson notes that, while the VantageScore and FICO models can be seen as the major scores, and the most commonly used, they aren’t the only ones out there.
“It is also important to know that many large lenders use custom scoring models built by in-house statisticians or external third parties,” Richardson said. “It’s extremely common for custom-developed scoring systems to use credit bureau-based risk scores as an ‘input.’ This means your 725, for example, is fed into another scoring model and influences what ends up being your ‘custom’ risk score.”
How to View Your Credit Scores
If you’re looking to see a specific score from a particular credit reporting agency, you should be able to request it from them directly for a small fee. You can see your credit reports (the information on which your scores are based) from each bureau for free each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com and requesting copies. You can also see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.
Tips for Understanding Your Scores
With so many credit scores out there, it can be both puzzling and frustrating to know which one to look to when you’re trying to understand your credit scores.
“We encourage consumers to monitor their credit score, but not to obsess over the many credit scores that lenders use,” Richardson said. “If a consumer practices good credit management, his or her scores should be good across the many models that lenders use.”
So, as Richardson said, the best thing you can do is focus on good credit behaviors, as these will reflect positively on you, no matter which score a potential lender is looking at. These good credit traits include things like having a good payment history, avoiding closing old accounts if possible and maintaining a strong credit utilization ratio (your amount of debt in relation to your overall credit limit).
If, after you review your scores, you discover they aren’t quite where you want them to be, there are things you can do to help improve them. Consider paying down your debts and limiting the number of hard inquiries made on your credit until your scores rebound. You may also want to carefully go over your credit reports to see if you discover mistakes. If you do, you can use this guide to help you dispute any credit report errors.