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Most credit experts and finance writers, myself included, warn people against paying for, or putting too much weight on, credit scores not generated by the Fair Isaacs Co. These non-FICO scores, sometimes called “FAKO scores,” are not used by lenders.
Don’t pay money for a credit score that is not your actual FICO score. Don’t even bother with the so-called “free” services where you have to cancel before the trial period. You can get your actual FICO score from Equifax that way at MyFICO.com through the website’s Score Watch program.
Having said that, I decided it would be fun to compare just how close FAKO scores from truly free sites (no trial membership) come to my actual FICO score. I obtained my Equifax FICO score with a free trial membership at MyFICO.com.
FICO v. FAKO, By the Numbers
My credit scores came from three websites:
- CreditKarma, which provided my TransRisk score and my VantageScore from TransUnion
- Quizzle, which offered my Experian PLUS score
- MyFICO.com, which gave me my actual FICO score based on my Equifax credit report
- TransRisk: 725 on a scale of 300 – 850, “good”
- VantageScore: 771, on a scale of 501 – 990, letter grade “C”
- Experian Plus: 693, on a scale of 300 – 850, letter grade “B”
- FICO from Equifax: 698, on a scale of 300 – 850, “good”
The Benchmark: Equifax FICO Score
My actual FICO credit score if I were to apply for a loan right now is 698 — if the lender used my Equifax score.
However, the information on my Equifax credit report is one month behind my TransUnion credit report. Which means that Equifax showed a higher credit utilization ratio and some debt that I actually paid off a few weeks ago.
Even more interesting, last month my TransRisk score was 698 — exactly the same as my Equifax FICO score today.
If you’re going for a major loan and you’ve been working hard to pay off credit card balances, wait a few months for the information on your credit reports to “catch up” to your payments. Those additional months of on-time payments, too, will only help your credit score.
Also, don’t just check your credit score.
Pull your credit files to make sure the information is accurate and up to date.
The TransRisk score was the highest of the three that use a scale of 300 to 850. My TransUnion credit report, which I obtained separately from AnnualCreditReport.com, also contained the most up-to-date information.
Knowing this, the TransRisk score is good to track trends in your credit score. But if you’ve taken action that could change your score dramatically, don’t trust it before going for a loan. However, the TransUnion FICO score (which I can’t seem to find anywhere!) is probably the most accurate and the most up-to-date.
My Experian PLUS score was only 5 points below my Equifax FICO score.
The information on my Experian credit report, obtained free from Quizzle, was the same as in my Equifax file, which is one month behind TransUnion (and reality.) So we can chalk this 5-point difference up to different calculation methods.
Five points may not make a difference in your interest rates — unless you’re on the cusp between good credit and very good credit (or bad and average credit).
I’d use this free score to gauge trends in my credit score, but I wouldn’t trust it before going for a major loan.
If I were a master mathematician I could possibly convert the 501 to 990 VantageScore scale into the scale used for most other credit scores.
Since I can’t, that number is virtually worthless for comparison purposes. And, even worse if you’re trying to get a loan, not enough lenders use the VantageScore to worry about it.
It’s interesting, too, that the other three credit scores rank me as “good” or “above average,” while Vantage ranks my credit score as an average “C.”
The experts are right.
Due to differences in credit score calculation methodology and the information on your credit reports, get your actual FICO score and your credit reports before going for a loan. A few points on your credit score can make a difference of thousands of dollars in a loan.