People often talk about their credit score. But really, they should talk about their credit scores, because we all have more than one. In fact, we have many types of credit scores—and not every person has the same number of scores.
Credit scores are like a variety pack of cookies; there are different flavors, shapes and sizes from different credit bureaus on different credit reports, and that scale a variety of uses.
But just how many types of credit scores are there? It is hard to pinpoint a specific number, since, the possibilities are essentially endless. To help wade through the possibilities, here are some of the main credit scores you want to be aware of.
Credit Scores: The Back Story
Credit scores didn’t become a significant factor in lending until the 1970s. Before then, there were many credit bureaus, but the decision about whether or not to extend credit to a consumer was largely based on the person’s character.
Meaning, you may have had a good credit score and a positive credit standing, but if the banker didn’t like you, you could get turned down for the loan solely based on that dislike.
In the 1950s, Bill Fair and Earl Isaac created the original automated credit scoring models, but that were initially unsuccessful. Fair and Isaac continued to refine their scoring models though, and today, those models have given us the FICO score.
It was the passing of The Fair Credit Reporting Act in 1970, that created a regulated system to help fairly determine who received a loan, based on which information could be collected and what kind of information could be reported instead of individual character.
Equifax was the original credit bureau and was founded in 1899. Experian is the newest credit bureau and was considered the largest bureau in the 1970s and 1980s.
Three Major Credit Bureaus, Three Credit Scores, Two Models
Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are three major credit bureaus. Each compile their own credit reports. They don’t share information with each other, and the information on each bureaus’ reports may be different. Unique reports results in a unique credit score from each agency. Those scores account for three of the types of credit scores a person can have.
The bureaus’ scores are based on two main scoring models VantageScore and FICO.
Scores from FICO, also known as the Fair Isaac Corporation, are the most popular scoring model. FICO scores can be industry-specific, based on the type of loan that a consumer is applying for. They can also be customized for client-specific needs.
FICO began providing scores in 1989, and has updated its formulas over the years, so many lenders use different FICO Score versions, adding to the list of available type of credit scores. In fact, many reports put the number of different credit scores at around 50 for FICO scores alone.
Back in 2014, the company launched FICO Score 9, which was updated to include rental payment history and to reduce the negative impact of unpaid medical accounts and paid third-party collections.
VantageScore launched its score thru Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion 2006 as an alternative to the FICO Score. “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.”
Other Types of Credit Scores
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. You will be asked to pay a small fee for your score. You can see your credit reports (the information on which your scores are based) from each bureau for free once each year by visiting annualcreditreport.com and requesting copies. You can also access your Experian credit scores for free on credit.com.
Credit Score Ranges
Credit scores will typically fall somewhere between 300 and 850. Having a score above the 700 mark is considered good while a score over 800 on this same scale is looked at as excellent. Credit scores that fall between the 600 and 750 range and are considered good; while scores below 550 are seen as poor.
FICO vs. Credit vs. VantageScores
When trying to understand the different types of credit scores, you have to look at different scores separately. FICO is a brand name and happens to be one of the most popular scoring methods that lenders use in the United States.
VantageScore, as one of the newer scoring models, have score ranges that may vary. A VantageScore 2.0, for example, has a 501 to 990 credit score range, while the 3.0 and 4.0 versions range from 300 to 850.
All three of the major credit reporting agencies are providing FICO Scores and VantageScore Scores. FICO shares which factors matter the most, which makes it useful in building or rebuilding positive credit history and provides good steps to follow to improve your credit overall.
Tips to Understand Your Scores
With so many credit scores out there, it can be puzzling and frustrating to know which one to look to when trying to understand your credit scores.
“We encourage consumers to monitor one 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.”
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 activities include:
- Having a good payment history with no late payments
- Avoiding closing old accounts if possible
- Maintaining a strong credit utilization ratio (your amount of debt in relation to your overall credit limit)
If, after you review you a score, you discover that it isn’t quite where you want it to be, there are things you can do to help improve it — things that should perpetuate to all your scores. Consider paying down your debt and limiting the number of hard credit inquiries that are made on your credit until your scores rebound.
You may also want to carefully go over your credit reports to discover mistakes in your credit history. If you do, you can dispute any credit report errors.
This article was originally published October 17, 2016, and has been updated by another author.