FICO Score vs. Credit Score: They Aren’t Necessarily the Same Thing

Although the terms “FICO score” and “credit score” are often used interchangeably, they can differ by as much as 100 points.
Last updated Sep 30, 2021 | By Lauren Stewart , Kat Tretina | Edited By Jess Ullrich
Person viewing credit score

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There’s a number that has an incredibly significant impact on your life. It’s not your driver's license number, phone number, or even your Social Security number.

It’s your credit score. Financial institutions look at your credit score to determine your eligibility for credit cards, loans, and mortgages. But did you know you have more than one?

The most popular credit scoring model is FICO, but VantageScore is an alternative that lenders might use or consider. Understanding the differences between FICO vs. VantageScore can prevent you from being caught unaware if there’s a discrepancy between scores.

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FICO score vs. credit score: What’s the difference?

The score you get online from your credit card company or other services might differ greatly from the score you’ll see when a lender pulls your credit. In fact, the scores could be off by as many as 100 points, affecting your eligibility for loans and the interest rates you can get. What gives?

It all comes down to which credit score version you’re looking at. From a lender perspective, FICO is the most widely used. According to myFICO, 90% of top lenders use FICO scores over other scoring models.

However, FICO isn’t the only scoring model available. Although FICO is the most widely used, another major scoring model is the VantageScore. Currently, VantageScore’s latest model is VantageScore 4.0.

VantageScore

VantageScore uses the same information to calculate your credit scores that FICO does, but it weighs the information differently. The result is that you can have multiple credit ratings that vary a great deal.

For example, you could look up your VantageScore and see that you have a score of 750. But if you apply for a car loan or personal loan and the lender looks up your FICO score, your score could be as low as 650.

Other FICO Scores

There are different types of FICO scores, too. There are general FICO scores, and industry-specific scores, such as the FICO Auto Score 9 or the FICO Score 2 for mortgages. However, when people talk about FICO credit scores, they’re usually talking about the FICO Score 8 because it’s the one most lenders use.

FICO score vs. credit score ranges

For the sake of comparison, we’ll talk about the FICO Score 8 and VantageScore 4.0 because they’re the most commonly used. They both range from 300 to 850, but the category ranges between them differ.

FICO score ranges

FICO’s credit score ranges tend to be stricter than VantageScore’s ranges. For example, only FICO scores above 800 are considered exceptional, whereas VantageScore considers scores of 781 to 850 to be excellent.

Because lenders look at the range rather than the specific number, the difference between how the scores are categorized can have a big impact on the interest rates you qualify for when you apply for a loan.

FICO scores follow these ranges:

  • 300 to 579: Poor
  • 580 to 669: Fair
  • 670 to 739: Good
  • 740 to 799: Very good
  • 800 to 850: Exceptional

VantageScore ranges

Previously, VantageScores ranged from 501 to 990. Because consumers were so used to FICO scores, the different range was confusing to many people. As a result, VantageScore updated its ranges for 3.0 and 4.0 versions. Now, the range is the same as FICO: 300 to 850.

However, the breakdown is slightly different:

  • 300 to 499: Very poor
  • 500 to 600: Poor
  • 601 to 660: Fair
  • 661 to 780: Good
  • 781 to 850: Excellent

Which factors impact your FICO score?

Your FICO score is calculated based on the following factors from your credit report:

  • Payment history: Your history of on-time payments on past credit accounts
  • Amounts owed: How much available credit you’re using
  • Length of credit history: How long your credit accounts have been open
  • New credit: How many credit accounts you’ve opened recently
  • Credit mix: What types of credit accounts you have. For instance, credit cards or installment loans such as personal or auto loans.
Factor Percentage of score
Payment history 35%
Amounts owed 30%
Length of credit history 15%
New credit 10%
Credit mix 10%

Factors impacting VantageScore

As with FICO, VantageScore uses your credit report to determine your credit score. But it weighs the information differently. For example, your payment history has the biggest impact on your FICO score. With the VantageScore model, your payment history is the third-biggest factor determining your score.

Although VantageScore doesn’t release the exact percentages for calculating scores, it does provide the following information:

Factor Importance
Payment history Moderately influential
Amounts owed Extremely influential
Length of credit history Less influential
New credit Less influential
Credit mix Highly influential

How to check your credit score

Your FICO and VantageScore are based on the information on your credit reports. You can view your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. However, free credit reports do not include credit scores.

To find your score, you can use one of these free or paid services:

Credit card accounts

Many credit card companies allow cardholders to check their credit scores for free. What score is available to you is dependent on which scoring model the credit card issuer provides.

  • Capital One: VantageScore provided by TransUnion
  • Citi: FICO score provided by Equifax
  • Discover: FICO score provided by Experian
  • American Express: VantageScore 3.0 provided by TransUnion

Online services

There are several online services you can use to look up your credit score, even if you don’t have a credit card:

  • Chase Credit Journey: Chase Credit Journey is a free service available to the public, even to those that don’t have a Chase credit card or bank account. It gives you your VantageScore 3.0 from Experian.
  • Credit Karma: VantageScore from TransUnion and Equifax, free. Read our Credit Karma review.
  • Credit Sesame: VantageScore from TransUnion, free. Compare Credit Sesame vs. Credit Karma.
  • Experian: FICO score, free
  • Equifax: VantageScore, starting at $9.95 per month
  • TransUnion: VantageScore, starting at $24.95 per month
  • myFICO: FICO, starting at $19.95 per month

FAQs

Can your credit scores be different on your credit reports?

When a lender performs a hard credit inquiry on a borrower, they can choose which credit report to pull information from. Your creditors might not report all of your information to all three credit reporting agencies, so your score could vary based on which credit report is used. For example, you could have different FICO scores based on information from Experian. vs. your Equifax credit report.

Is your FICO score your real credit score?

While FICO scores are the most commonly used to determine creditworthiness, they’re not the only type of credit scores available to lenders. Certain lenders use the VantageScore model, which can be quite different from your FICO score. It’s up to the lender to decide which type of credit score they use, but both scores are “real.”

Which credit scores do lenders use?

Which credit score is used for lending decisions is dependent on the lender. FICO scores are used by all types of creditors, and VantageScores are used in all industries except mortgage lending.

How can you increase your credit score?

To boost your FICO credit score or VantageScore, follow these tips:

  • Make your payments on time. Make all of your payments — including credit card, student loan, and car loan payments — on time. Late payments can damage your score.
  • Keep balances low. Keep balances low on revolving credit such as credit cards or a home equity line of credit. In general, you should aim to keep your credit utilization under 30%.
  • Don’t close old accounts. Instead of closing old accounts, keep them open and use them once per year so they stay active.
  • Limit credit applications. Apply for new credit sparingly. Each new credit inquiry can decrease your score, and opening several new accounts in a short time can hurt your credit.
  • Use the right tools. Certain tools could help you boost your credit. For instance, Experian Boost is a program you can use to get credit for your rent, utility, and cell phone payments. Read our Experian Boost review to learn more.
  • Review your credit reports. Review your credit reports regularly to ensure they’re accurate.

Bottom line

If you want to learn how to manage your money, understanding how credit scores work is essential. Although people often talk about your FICO score, you actually have multiple credit scores instead of just one. The FICO and VantageScore models use the information on your credit reports to calculate your score, but they calculate your scores using different formulas.

By understanding the difference between the FICO and VantageScore models, you can be better prepared when you apply for a loan or credit card and can take steps to boost your credit.

Experian Boost Benefits

  • Get credit for making on-time payments for your utility bills and streaming services
  • 100% free and new credit scores take effect immediately
  • Get your credit scores for free
  • © 2021 Experian

Author Details

Lauren Stewart Lauren Stewart is a freelance writer and personal coach. Get to know her!
Kat Tretina Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been published by publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, MarketWatch, and more. She specializes in producing content around paying down debt, increasing income, and maximizing credit cards. You can view her work at www.KTretina.com, or contact her on Twitter @KatTretina.