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Most people know that their credit score is a three-digit snapshot of their current credit and recent credit history. It signifies the risk you represent to any lender that may consider loaning you money.
But many people don’t know that several different credit scores exist – and your score might differ substantially depending on which score you look at. Not only do the numbers differ because the scoring system varies, but the different agencies weigh the factors that make up your credit score differently. There are now, actually, dozens of different credit scores lenders may use to determine your credit-worthiness.
Some of the most common, and the range of scores for each, include:
- FICO: 300 – 850
- Experian: 330 – 830
- Equifax: 300 – 850
- TransUnion: 300 – 850
- VantageScore: 501 – 990 (or a letter grade, A – F)
If so many different credit scores exist, why all the fuss about FICO? This score, generated by the Fair Isaacs Company, is used by 90 % of all lenders. That’s why it’s so important to know your FICO score because you apply for a major loan (like a car loan or a mortgage) or if you’re shopping around for a new credit card.
If you know your FICO score, you’ll know how most lenders will judge you as a credit risk. If your score falls into the “good” or “fair” range, rather than excellent, you may want to wait, if circumstances permit, take steps to improve your credit, and apply for the loan after you’ve brought your credit score to the next level.
Websites exist, like CreditKarma.com, that give you some version of your credit score completely free. However, Credit Karma doesn’t specify exactly what score it’s providing, although it does use the same point range as a FICO score.
Using a free service like Credit Karma is a good way to track your credit monthly as it improves – or to look for red flags like sudden drops that may indicate a mistake on one of your credit reports.
Experian.com, on the other hand, provides a 3-in-1 credit report computed from all three credit agencies, but offers their “PLUS” credit score – not the actual FICO score. Several other websites offer other versions of credit scores – again, good for monitoring your overall credit health, but not good if you want to see exactly what lenders will see when you apply for credit or a loan.
It’s important to check all three FICO scores through a reputable agency at least once every six months to a year – and definitely before applying for any loans or credit cards. Additionally, before you pay for access to your FICO score, make sure you purchase it from a company that uses all three credit reports to compute the score, or check your FICO score from each credit report separately.
Because there may be differences in your three credit reports – and you never know which one a lender will use to evaluate your creditworthiness – it’s important to know all three FICO scores and to review all three credit reports once a year. (You can find out how to get your credit reports from all three agencies free in this post.)
The website MyFICO.com offers several different ways to get your FICO credit score from all three agencies. From free trials, to one-time fees to monthly plans, you can find a service at MyFICO that gives you exactly what you need.
For a comprehensive look at your credit scores (although it costs a bit more than some other services), Suze Orman’s FICO Kit Platinum provides all three FICO scores plus your choice of your credit report from Equifax or TransUnion, along with Suze Orman’s sound financial advice.
For significantly less money, you can get your individual FICO scores from Equifax or TransUnion through FICO Standard.
Equifax’ Score Watch gives you daily monitoring of your Equifax Credit Report and weekly monitoring of your Equifax FICO score. You can get a one-month free trial, but you will have to provide a credit card number and remember to cancel before the trial period ends.
These three services, available through MyFICO.com, represent the best values for obtaining your FICO scores as determined by all three credit agencies.