You’d think that after reaching an 800+ credit score, life would be all donuts and free coffee right? Well, I’ve got to admit, nobody taught me a secret handshake, or gave me a coupon for a free deep-tissue massage. Instead, life just went on like usual. The reality is, there are over 60 different types of credit scores! Therefore, your high credit score might not be that special.
While you’ve probably heard of Fair Isaac Corporation’s FICO score before. The FICO score is by far the most popular type of credit score. However, there are so many versions of FICO’s credit score as well.
In addition to 60+ different credit score versions, there are other “FAKO” scores from other distributors not affiliated with FICO such as VantageScore.
This post will go over:
* Why there are so many different types of credit scores
* The dominance of FICO and the new FICO 9 credit score calculation
* The three main credit bureaus
* A list of what does and what does not affect your credit score
* The three main “FAKO” scores
Why Are There So Many Different Types Of Credit Scores?
Think of credit scores like recipes for apple pie. There’s more than one way to come up with a credit score just like there’s more than one way to bake apple pie.
If you ask two different companies to calculate a credit score, or the same company to create a credit score for two different clients, you’re bound to get slightly different results. We’re a country that loves customization and options after all.
Credit scores can be calculated using different inputs, sources, ratios, and ranges, but at the end of the day every model is designed to represent a consumer’s credit worthiness. Of course, if any of the inputs have errors then one or more of your credit scores could be grossly miscalculated. That’s why it’s important to regularly check your scores.
The innovation by fintech firms for student loans is using new variables to analyze creditworthiness. These variables include schools attended, area of study, academic performance, and work history.
It makes sense because how else are potentially high quality borrowers with limited credit history and employment experience ever going to get started if they don’t have an open Bank of Mom & Dad?
The different types of credit scores help lending marketplaces like Credible find the best borrowers and offer the best loans.
Things To Know About The Different Types Of Credit Scores
Don’t worry about memorizing all of the minute differences between each type of score. There’s too many to keep track of and the agencies keep their exact formulas secret anyway. Pay attention to the range of each score you look at instead. Some scoring systems are out of 850, while others may be out of 900.
In addition to having different ranges and inputs, credit scores may also be custom calculated for specific types of lending. For example, if you receive a credit score specifically tailored for getting a mortgage and another for a car loan, they won’t be an exact apples to apples comparison.
FICO Credit Score Still Dominates
FICO has been calculating credit scores for decades and is the industry leader. They claim on their website that 90% of all U.S. consumer lending decisions are made using their scores. That includes tens of thousands of businesses, 25 of the largest credit card issuers, and another 25 of the biggest auto lenders. Chances are high you’ve received a FICO score in the past.
The most common category of FICO scores is a general risk credit score that ranges between 300 and 850. Over time, FICO has been tweaking its formulas to improve accuracy, account for changes in consumer behavior, and incorporate new data points.
Customized Models And Results
FICO also has scoring calculations specific to lending type: mortgages, auto loans, bankcards, installment loans, etc. This makes a lot of sense because applying for a credit card is very different than applying for a mortgage.
FICO also has unique versions of their generic scoring system for each of the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can see how all of these versions add up to 65 in the table below based on data from Bankrate.
Don’t worry about the specific differences between the scores because FICO doesn’t disclose their input and weighting details. The majority of them are on a 300 to 850 scale but a few differ including FICO’s bankcard and auto scores that run between 250 and 900.
The total number of FICO credit scores will probably continue to go up over time. Our consumer behavior inevitably changes with time, models become outdated, and the desire for new and improved versions is endless. Older FICO models should get phased out and replaced with newer ones.
FICO Score Inputs
What are the building blocks that go into FICO Scores? There are five primary categories of data that are used in FICO’s models as seen in the diagram below.
Lenders Are Not Always Quick To Change
When you receive a FICO credit score, it may not be one of the latest versions because many older FICO models are still in use today. Many lenders are slow to upgrade because the older versions still work. It can be expensive for lenders to upgrade their systems to use newer models. Think about how slow some companies are at upgrading their PC operating systems and you get the idea.
What Is FICO Score 9?
FICO Score 9 is the latest scoring system that was released to the three national credit bureaus in late 2014. The most noteworthy change is the impact reduction of medical debt on the total score calculation. In prior versions, medical debt was just debt. But we all know that people can get struck with serious illnesses by no fault of their own and medical bills can be outrageously expensive.
Of course not paying your medical bills and having them fall into collections is still harmful to your credit score. However the penalties won’t be as severely damaging or as long as previous versions. FICO said in their Score 9 press release, “The median FICO Score for consumers whose only major negative references are medical collections will increase by 25 points.” Notice any changes to your score?
But remember, even though FICO has released this latest version, it could take years for your lender to start using it. Since Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac are known to be very slow to change, and since many mortgage lenders use Fannie and Freddy’s standards, it could be awhile before those with medical debt find it any easier to get a mortgage.
Another improvement with FICO 9 is an increase in consistency across the different versions used at each of the three credit bureaus. This could lead to smaller variances in our credit scores between Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax making it easier for us to notice if a data point has gone awry at one of the bureaus.
Other Credit Scores Are FAKO Credit Scores
What’s a credit score that’s not FICO? “FAKO” of course. Since FICO’s scoring models have dominated the realm of credit scores for so long, most people and businesses haven’t bothered with any other system.
Other credit worthiness scores do exist, however. Some of the scoring ranges differ from the popular 300-850 scale, but the underlying goal of determining credit worthiness and risk is the same.
The Three Main “FAKO” scores include:
PLUS Score – An educational credit scoring model by Experian that has a range of 330 and 830. It isn’t actually used by lenders, but it intended to help consumers understand their credit worthiness.
CreditXpert Credit Score – Created by CreditXpert Inc., these scores are intentionally explained in plain English to help you understand the positive and negative factors affecting your credit quality.
VantageScore – VantageScore was launched in 2006 by none other than Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. The three bureaus came together to create VantageScore as a way to compete against FICO, increase consistency across their agencies, and also to help lenders in the subprime markets.
Even though three bureaus use the exact same model to calculate VantageScore, due to different data on each of their credit reports, such as pulling account balances at different times, the scores can still vary.
VantageScore was used by 6 of the 10 largest banks and over 2,000 lenders in 2014. Over 3 billion VantageScore credit scores were used for model building, decision making, and testing purposes last year alone. They claim VantageScore has enabled 30-35 million consumers get a credit score who couldn’t otherwise due to using credit infrequently or inexperience.
Even The Most “Consistent” Models Need Updates
The most recent version, VantageScore 3.0, is ranged between 300 and 850. Prior versions were on a scale of 501 to 990, which created a lot of confusion. Now that VantageScore 3.0 matches FICO’s most popular score range, it’s much easier for consumers to grasp and compare. Here are a few insights on Vantage Score inputs:
Curious what your VantageScore looks like? You can get a free copy of your VantageScore 3.0 through various lenders for free.
So Many Different FICO Score Types
Don’t let the 65 different FICO score iterations, VantageScore, and other FAKO models get you confused. Leave that headache to the lenders and let them worry about which version to use. What you can do is maintain good credit habits and make sure your credit reports are clean and error free at all three credit bureaus.
What Information Is Typically Used To Calculate A Credit Score?
Even though there are multiple credit score models, a lot of the inputs are the same, albeit in different ratios and from varying sources. Familiarize yourself with the most common inputs below.
- Payment history
- Percent of credit used
- Debt burden
- Age of oldest account
- Average age of accounts
- Debt to limit ratio
- Average credit card limit
- Number of accounts with balances
- Amount owed on accounts
- Amount paid down on installment loans
- Types of credit used
- Number of credit inquiries (promotional, administrative, and consumer-initiated inquiries are excluded)
- Money owed
- Percentage of new credit
- Tax liens
- Civil judgments
While it may feel like a violation of privacy to have so much personal data stored in databases and run through models you’ll never get to see, there are plenty of other personal data points that are never used in the calculations. Lenders will still ask you to provide extra data because they don’t rely on credit scores alone when determining whether or not to extend you credit.
During my unpleasant mortgage refinance experience, Chase asked a lot of questions about my assets, bank accounts, private investments, and investment accounts. Many borrowers are turning to P2P lenders to avoid dealing with so much paperwork and ultimately, rejection by traditional lenders.
What Doesn’t Affect Your Credit Score?
- Employment history
- Total assets
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- The interest rates on your accounts
- Consumer initiated credit inquiries
- Promotional and administrative credit inquiries from lenders
- Marital status
- Alimony or child support obligations
- Where you live
- Receiving public assistance
- Participating in credit counseling
- Any information not found in your credit report
Check Your Credit Score Once A Year
You can check your latest Experian credit score directly with them for a buck. Experian is the most commonly cited credit score company among the big three. I check my score once a year due to credit errors that are unbeknownst to me and most people.
There was one time my credit score dropped to 610 from 810 without me knowing because I had a claim against me for an $8 unpaid utility bill from three years ago! Why the utility company didn’t just call or e-mail me for the $8 bucks is beyond me. The mixup almost derailed my mortgage refinance in its 3rd month. If I checked sooner, I could have avoided the heart attack.
The Federal Trade Commissions did an eight-year study that shows 25% of all credit reports have some type of error that may negatively affect your chances of getting a loan, an apartment, or even a job.
Credit errors are like hard-to-detect bugs that slowly eat away at your financial strength until one day they cripple you when you need money the most. It’s good to check once a year, just like it’s good to get an annual physical after the age of 35. You never know what’s growing inside until it’s too late.
Refinance Your Mortgage
Now that you know the different types of credit scores, it’s up to you to take advantage. Mortgage rates are at record-lows. I highly recommend you refinance your mortgage today.
Get a great rate from competing lenders on Credible. You’ll get free, no-obligation quotes in minutes. The higher your credit score, the lower the rate!
I have no FICO score.
FICO 9’s reduction in weight of medical debt makes sense. I have a friend who used to work in the mortgage business, and he said his company basically ignored medical bankruptcy because, “everyone and their mother can experience medical bankruptcy.” Obviously, this isn’t literally true, but it makes sense that problems with medical debt are more likely to be a bad luck issue that leading to multiple compounding problems than consumer or student debt. I say all of this as someone who was able to pay off her high medical bills without any missed payments. I had insurance (planned) and an emergency fund (also planned), which makes it seem like my own good planning is what allowed me to survive without damaging my credit history. The reality, though, is that if my condition had continued to cause similar bills for another year or two, I would not have been able to keep up. What is more, if it had caused me to lose my job (it did cause me to lose significant income from my job for 1 year), or if my insurance company had been able to drop my coverage after the first incident, or if my insurance company had been victorious in any of three different attempts to claim that my most expensive procedures were not covered, I would not have been able to keep up.
I do wonder how Obamacare might influence the actuarial significance of medical debt and bankruptcy. (My friend’s bank’s “medical bankruptcy is irrelevant” policy was pre-Obamacare).
mary w says
I realized how different FICO scores could be when Citi started to give me monthly FICO scores. In January I looked for the 1st time and it was 859. My reaction was, great! But then wait a minute – doesn’t FICO just go to 850? First I confirmed that was a FICO rather than FAKO score. Eventually Google helped me to understand that a special credit card score goes to 900.
Financial Samurai says
Bingo! I am w/ Citi too and surprised by my higher score too. That is why I write in the post to pay attention to the range as there are so many different scores. Nuts!
One of the large factors is % of credit used, but you have to understand that your credit usage isn’t necessarily calculated based on your billing date. If you pay your bill in full every month on the 15th, but the company reports values based on the 1st then you won’t get the full credit you deserve for never carrying a balance.
IMO, when you plan to apply for credit, get in the habit of paying your credit card weekly or whenever you make a large purchase. Web bill pay makes this much easier. You’ll want to carry that habit through the end of the loan process just in case the lender decides to pull your credit again.
Very good point, this has hit me before even though pay in full usually after I receive the bill. It only matters when borrowing but does affect your score, potentially triple figures.
RE: samurai’s question –
I believe FICO scores are only ones that matter and I’ve only recently found out there are so many as well through myfico.com for example.
I’ve seen Vantage scores on Credit Karma be about 100-120 points lower than FICO scores used for mortgage lending. (go to the message board on credit karma to see them constantly flamed for how “fake” and unrealistic the vantage score is, but it is cheaper! for them to buy)
I think it’s overweighted to revolving debt. (latest reported balance from statement) there really needs to be a flag scores look at such as (was balance 0 at any point during previous 30 days) that would get rid of people who are getting the maximum carry from the cards getting dinged for it on their credit scores.
Financial Samurai says
Interesting strategy! If I ever fall below 760, I’ll give that a try.
Whatever you do, don’t use creditkarma.com. I spent 3 months preparing my credit score for a refinance. I would pay off a credit card and my credit score wouldn’t budge past 607. Finally my loan guy and close friend said that you can’t always trust those sites. He decided to pull my credit just to see and it was 710. At least freecreditreport.com and a few of the other $1 ones are accurate.
Financial Samurai says
OK, good to know. CK is one of the new unicorn Silicon Valley companies out there.
Folks can just go straight to Experian’s website to check their score for $1, and then cancel before the grace period is over.
The one thing that really drives me bananas is that my score is penalized (slightly, but still) because I don’t have multiple different types of credit lines open. I have a 10-year mortgage with about 9 years left on it (refi’d from a 30 year to a 10), I have an Amex and Discover (rewards cards that I actually use and pay off every month), and a Citibank that sits unused. I get nicked for not having enough accounts open, because I don’t want all these mickey mouse retail store cards and I don’t need an auto loan. I figure the more open accounts I have, the greater risk that something might go awry with my credit report, and who wants that, right? So despite having an absolutely perfect credit record, where I’ve not only paid every payment on time but I’ve paid off nearly every loan I’ve had early, my credit report is always between 805 and 820, tops. Maybe it’s the overachiever in me, but it ticks me off to think that someone else has an 850 credit score because they’re financing their car, when mine’s paid off. Anyone else have that problem?
I am in a similar situation, but I don’t consider it a problem. I think you are encountering an aspect of the credit score which is not often mentioned, including in Sam’s article. At low levels, the score measures if you are a good credit risk. But aspects of the score like your example make me think the full definition is that you are good credit business–low risk, and profitable. This doesn’t bug me, but I do understand it; it’s like any kind of rewards / perks / status game. The best (i.e. most profitable) customers get the best treatment.
You are like a silver elite frequent flyer, jealous of the platinum person when you see that they get a free upgrade, while all you got was early boarding, a free checked bag, and discounts on seat upgrades that give you the legroom you used to get for free. But, you also paid $250 on sale for your ticket, while they pay $1,000+ each time because they are traveling on business, at the last minute. The benefits they get for their status do not make up for the cost.
But my advice is to be content with your own measures of success. An 800+ score will pass all the hurdles in life. And you are miles ahead by not needing to finance those other things on credit. You don’t need someone else to tell you that.
Financial Samurai says
No. I don’t think anybody has this problem of being ticked having a 800 – 820 credit score.
Time to live it up I guess!
fun in the sun says
Is there any advantage to having a credit score over 800?
My banker has always told me for mortgages, 740 is the magic number. Therefore I like applying for mileage credit cards between loans to fund international trips in first class. This limits the credit score to 750 – 780 range, but also means a couple of $10k flights a year are free.
I am interested to hear from anyone in the world of credit underwriting, whether scores matter once you pass 740?
i believe, but may be mistaken, that you get extra perks in the process of buying a house when you’re above 800. i forget what they are (the rates are the same with 740 vs. 800+), but i felt like the bank gave us more leeway on some things because we were both over 820.
Maybe it’s up to your loan officer. They do sometimes have a teeny bit of leeway in what they can offer, but I’ve never seen a bank policy that gives better treatment to 800+ scores. On the other hand, when I called BofA and asked them to match a rate I was offered by another lender, they did bend over backwards to try to match it, in part because of my 800+ credit score and my other financial stats. So maybe it’s not official policy, but the loan officer can negotiate better with management on your behalf?
Financial Samurai says
Ahhh, you’re missing out! You can get so much more than just two first class flights a year if you’re above 800. But as they say, what you don’t know won’t hurt you. So if you’re happy not being in the top tier, all is good!
My credit score is flirting with the 800+ line – is there a previous (or future!) post that details leveraging top tier credit scores with top tier rewards?
A lot of interest here – thanks for the post!
I’m sure it depends on the lender, but we were told something similar by our lender. They had tiers for loan terms, and the highest tier for loan terms started somewhere in the mid-700’s (I can’t remember the exact #), meaning that a higher credit score was not of any benefit for a mortgage at all (again, with our lender). Similar things are true with car insurance companies–a clean driving record for the past 5 years “counts” the same as a clean driving record for the past 10 years, for some insurers. Every insurer’s formula is slightly different, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in general, people with scores of 830 were not found to be much more reliable than those with scores of 760 (just as someone with a clean driving record for the past 12 years might not be much less prone to crashing than someone with a clean record for the past 6 years).
there should be further refinement to the voting options.
Financial Samurai says
Why so detailed? What’s your score? Generally, 720 or 740 and above is considered excellent.
Kate @ Cashville Skyline says
Wow, I had no idea there were so many different types of credit scores. And I’ve written freelance articles about credit! So, it’s not surprising so many people find the entire system confusing. I was pretty shocked about your readers’ collective scores, too! Impressive! :)
J. Money says
I love that a majority of your readers so far have 800+ credit scores haha… Smart group here! Probably because of you, eh? :)
Jim Wang says
FinancialSamurai.com, where all the people are good looking and all the kids have above average FICO scores.
Seth Kaiser says
I’m gonna have to agree with Jim here.
Financial Samurai says
Donno man. Perhaps FS just attracts financially savvy folks. Or, maybe my anti debt welching post scared everybody away!
Ali @ Anything You Want says
Wow – such a thorough overview! Thanks, this is super useful. I don’t check my credit score regularly, although two of my credit cards have recently added a feature that gives you a monthly free credit score, so I do have that available. I don’t even know what the score is based on, but my guess is that it is FICO. I do make a point to check my credit reports regularly, and I trust that as long as the info is correct on there and I’m behaving responsibly, my scores will all be fine.
Wow cool! I had no idea there were so many different types of credit scores, especially FICO scores. I thought there was just one FICO score – glad I know that’s not the case now!
It makes a lot of sense that they have different versions based on the type of lending. I didn’t realize though that FICO has variations of its scores for each of the bureaus. That’s good they are working on reducing the amount of variances between the major three to make it easier on us.
My latest FICO score that I can access through my Citi account is 856 out of 900. Looks like it’s coming out of Equifax. Since it’s a banking card related score that’s probably why it’s out of a higher scale than the more common max range of 850.