Credit Scoring Differences: FICO vs Vantage Score

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2009-07-2818

What’s the difference between your FICO credit score and all others?

myFICO 30-Day Free Trial

Credit scores can be pretty confusing. It’s because when you go hunting around for them, you’re bombarded with many options. What you think is a free credit score really isn’t (you only get a free trial) and the one you’ve picked up may not be what your lender is using to gauge your creditworthiness. To make heads or tails of all this, let’s see if I can put some facts down. Let’s start with this basic question: what are the differences among the various credit scores that are offered by different agencies?

The most widely used credit score is the FICO score, which was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation (hence the name FICO). And contrary to what you may have heard or read, it is not called a “FICA score” (there’s no such thing as a FICA score, even though tons of people are looking around for theirs ;) ).

Credit Scoring Differences: FICO vs VantageScore

While the FICO credit score is popular among lenders, the credit bureaus also use their own models. For instance, here’s a look at the different scores available out there, and where to pick them up (some products mentioned below bundle credit scores with reports):

Credit Score
Where To Buy
Cost
Range
FICO Score (TransUnion) myFICO.com $15.95 300 – 850
FICO Score (Equifax) myFICO.com $15.95 300 – 850
FICO Score (Equifax) Equifax Score Power $15.95 300 – 850
Experian Plus Experian $15 300 – 850
VantageScore Experian $5.95 501 – 990
(letter grade: A – F)
Credit Karma Score Credit Karma FREE 300 – 900

*Products marked “sale” have a promo code automatically applied so you’ll receive the discounted price as listed above.

Be aware of the differences: apparently, your scores can vary by as much as 50 points, depending on which credit bureau you get them from. For example, your Experian credit score (a proprietary number) won’t necessarily match the number you obtain through a credit monitoring service such as the myFICO Score Watch service. Here are some scenarios that can cause variations in your credit score and report:

  • Certain financial events may be reported to just one bureau but not another. For instance, there was a time when a department store credit card I owned would only report to a particular credit agency. Another time, I noticed a closed account appearing on one of my credit reports, but not on others.
  • Errors may show up in one of your credit reports. You may want to double check your credit information across reports for potential errors.
  • Identity theft is also a risk, and can appear in any of your credit reports. It’s therefore important to examine your reports on a regular basis. Here’s more on how to prevent identity theft and get identity theft protection.
  • Different reports and different scoring models by each credit agency can lead to varied scores.
credit scoring, FICO score, VantageScore

Be Careful About Where You Get Your Credit Score!

It’s important to differentiate between your credit score and your credit report. Your credit report (or credit history) is a record of your past financial behavior — mostly showing how you’ve dealt with loans and debt. If you’ve been bankrupt or had a foreclosure in your past, these will be captured in your credit history. It’s easy to get a report: you can fetch it from all three major credit bureaus for free via AnnualCreditReport.com.

Now there are companies (the credit bureaus, agencies and independent companies) that distill all this credit information into one convenient number via a formula, resulting in your credit score. But with credit scores, things are not as straightforward as they are with your credit reports, since you can fetch different versions of these numbers from a variety of places, as we’ve illustrated earlier. The most well known and widely used is the FICO score, but other alternatives also exist, called non-FICO (or even “FAKO”) scores.

Why are there so many variations? There’s a licensing cost to use FICO, which has prompted some financial companies that need to buy and use scores, to opt for the more cost effective solution of developing or resorting to proprietary scoring models. After all, many financial companies are high volume users of such scores, since they evaluate risk levels for tons of accounts. This chance to grab a piece of the credit score market has encouraged reporting agencies to develop and offer their own scoring system to the public.

Don’t confuse one score for another. If you’re not careful, you may end up applying for a loan based on the “wrong” credit score (one that your lending is not using). I’ve read about people who ended up with more expensive loans than they bargained for, because they were relying on numbers that were different from those used by their lenders. So before paying to see your score, make sure you know what it is you’re picking up. First ask your lender or bank what they’re using: is it a FICO or a Vantage score that they’re basing their evaluations on? Better yet, some banks may be willing to share your credit information with you for free, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann July 29, 2009 at 4:50 am

Credit scores can be affected by credit lenders that you wouldn’t even consider. Things like contract cell phones, utilities, water, store cards etc. Basically any credit given by a company can potentially be searched and logged against your credit profile.

Worth considering this at times when you borrow/take out store cards, i.e. Christmas, moving property, holidays etc, as too many searches (eg in one month, 3 or 4) can wipe out your credit score when you may most need it.

Ray's Health Journal July 29, 2009 at 11:19 am

Yes it is important not to get your credit scores confused.

Gordon's Credit Report July 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm

What you need to know is the credit score that your lender uses to make decisions while you apply for a mortgage.

Jim July 29, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Transunion has a FAKO score called a TransRisk score. I get it free through a credit card I have. It looks like it ranges 100-900.

Scott Lovingood July 30, 2009 at 9:25 am

For free CreditKarma is a very cool site. It lets you play around with the impact that decisions can have on your credit score. While it is only a general measure, it does give you an idea on what you have.

I suggest that everyone get set up for their free annual reports. Since their are three credit reporting agencies, you can check a different one every 4 months and make sure that no unauthorized credit has been issued in your name. Always a great idea to keep an eye on your credit score and to manage it.

JoeTaxpayer August 2, 2009 at 10:37 am

I understood from an article at moolanomy that Credit Karma now uses the TransUnion scoring, 300-850.

What I’ve hoped to find is a few people, already with a FICO service, who can tell us the accuracy of the Karma score.
Joe

Karen August 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm

This is crazy, I tried to get my information and they kept telling me I need to do a paper application. I was able to get information about 1 credit company and got it. But then had to pay for what I thought was my FICO score and ended up with a Vantage Score. This is useless to me a I am buying a home and my credit will be based on my FICO score. If companies are too cheap to use FICO the standard scoring system they should be kicked off and not counted. I wasted my money and my time on a useless score. Now I have to go elsewhere to get my real FICO score.

Absurd!

Silicon Valley Blogger August 8, 2009 at 4:49 pm

@Karen,
I am sorry to hear about your story! I think this confusion with credit scores is very common and I am afraid that many people have been misled into purchasing the wrong scores more often than not. I’ll be honest and say that the first time I read about credit scores, I was truly confused about what was being offered in the marketplace. I can now see the importance of asking your lender what kind of score they are using. And most of the time, if you want to be “safe”, you may want to pick up a FICO score and not some other variant.

There are now free scores that are available to consumers (see Credit Karma and Quizzle), but unless your lender uses these scores, they will only be useful as a way of getting some ballpark idea about where your credit stands.

I’d like to get the information out about how all these scores vary, and hope to spread the word about their differences and distinctions.

Mark August 10, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Great explanation of the difference between FICO Scores and all of the proprietary scores from the credit bureaus. It’s just another example of how the credit bureaus are only interested in plucking money from us and not truly concerned about us.

I think you give a very clear and concise explanation on the difference. I even put a post on my blog pointing to your article.

Keep up the great work!

Mark

Chandler AZ August 23, 2009 at 11:47 am

It’s very frustrating to end up with a score that you later realize is not the type you had expected.

Simple Solutions Credit January 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Great article especially about explaining why we as consumers need to pay attention to the different credit scores that we have. While still most lenders, banks, institutions are still using FICO credit scoring, few are opting to change over to the new Vantage scoring. One correction that I have based on 25 years of experience as a Certified Credit Consultant is that some scores can vary more than 50 points, not upto 50 points. I have personally seen such a wide difference in credit scores for clients because the “subscribers” or “lenders, businesses, banks, etc” can decide to report (pay) a certain credit bureau while not reporting or subscribing (paying) the other one or two. It will benefit you if the trade line item is reporting to all 3 credit bureaus if your trade line item is positive. If it is a negative trade line item, and is reported to all 3 credit bureaus, then the credit scores are lower on each. This is where legal credit repair will help you. Unlike the credit bureaus will report, you can actually get items deleted on your credit reports such as: bankruptcies, foreclosures, collections, tax liens, charge-offs, etc which will raise your credit scores. This is legal by using the federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, under section 809 and 811. Now you are not suppose to have an accurate item deleted, but if you are disputing an item, and the credit bureaus cannot verify its accuracy through the creditor, then it must be deleted. This is stated in the same law above! Get educated, and learn your credit rights. Ask about our Credit Education Booklet at mycreditsolutions.com

Todi February 11, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Big difference between Vantage score and FICO. About 70 points. Vantage score is higher/looks better. But is it really better? I’m so frustrated. Trying to figure which one is better to follow. And everybody is saying what is good for them, not for a consumer.

travis September 12, 2011 at 9:23 pm

i recently applied and received a popular credit card, when i got the card, the credit card company said i had a fico score of 698, i checked before i applied and after i got the card and all 3 of my scores were 736 or higher. When you try to discuss with them, i only get the run around and are asked to contact the credit reporting agencies….i think its a way for the credit card company to justify an increased interest rate to saddle you with……….any ideas?

Silicon Valley Blogger September 13, 2011 at 8:03 am

@Travis,
I can only assume that the credit card company is either using a different credit scoring system to gauge your credit (there are lots that are geared towards different financing needs), or is using either outdated or new credit information. Also, my experience with card companies is that their representatives are simply not as knowledgeable as we’d expect. But they are trained to negotiate and work with customers so that they continue to keep an amicable relationship with you. If you are a good or long-term customer, they’ll especially want to work with you. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’ve got a weaker position. Card companies have it in their terms to be able to change their rates and terms at any time (it’s in the fine print).

Devin Bent November 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Is there some way to find out with mortgage lenders use the VantageScore (The NonFICO)?

In theory, I can call or email. But in practice I can push my way up to a supervisor and they don’t have the foggiest idea what I am talking about. I can even to the person who would negotiate the loan and they don’t know what I am talking about. By the time I finally get an answer, I sincerely doubt the accuracy of the answer — somebody at one institution gave me an answer. I went ahead and had them do a hard pull and I could tell by the score that they had been wrong.

Does anybody keep an accurate list of banks and which score they use?

Silicon Valley Blogger November 1, 2011 at 10:59 pm

@Devin,
Good question. I shall see what I can do about finding out. The information isn’t widely available unless some additional research is conducted. At this time, the head of VantageScore, Barrett Burns presented the following statistics on lenders using this scoring system (during a talk in 2010):

- 80% of top financial companies and institutions
- 80% of well known credit card companies
- 30% of the most popular mortgage originators
- 14% of the top car lenders

Note that he didn’t say “a percentage of all companies” but rather “a percentage of top companies”. So the use of VantageScore may not be as widespread as he may lead you to believe. It’s actually the FICO score that is used by 90% of the biggest banks, with a 74% market share. VantageScore has a measly 6% or so of the credit scoring market, from what I’ve gathered.

I’ll try to get more information on this matter.

Johnny November 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Went to apply for a mortgage and was told that lenders go by the FICO (850) score and not the Vantage (990) score.

Bettina December 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Just want to emphasize this: your credit score may not be “what it seems”. For instance, most of us don’t really know the difference between the scores we receive from various credit bureaus and lenders. That is, you can receive a score from one of the credit bureaus that can be 100, 200 or 300 points higher than the score that your lender ultimately bases your loan terms on, because your lender may use a different credit scoring system than what the bureaus use. This is crucial information we all need to know, especially in light of today’s lending environment.

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