FICO Score vs. Credit Score: Key Differences and What It Means For You
Who has the cash to buy a car, house, or other large purchase just sitting around? Not a whole lot of people. If you’re in the market for a new credit card or are interested in borrowing a loan, you’ve probably heard the term “FICO credit score.”
Do you really know what it means, though, and how it might affect your ability to get a loan? Or what about the differences between your FICO score and credit score?
90% of the top lenders use FICO credit scores to determine your risk potential, so it's important to learn what each term means, how they’re calculated, and what other types of scores are out there.
What is the difference between my FICO score and credit score?
The main difference between your FICO score and credit score are the factors used to determine them. While most of the criteria are the same, there are some particular differences that can impact how it’s calculated.
The FICO scoring model has five criteria they use to calculate your score: payment history, amounts owed, credit history length, new credit, and credit mix. Each category has a specific percentage that it weighs when your score is determined.
The other scoring model, VantageScore, utilizes six criteria: payment history, credit mix and age, credit used, credit available, total debt, and recent behavior. Some criteria are weighed more heavily than others, but it’s not told just how much each can alter your score.
What does each of the scoring criteria mean?
Without knowing how to translate the criteria your scores are based on, you won’t have a good starting point to know how to improve or maintain your credit score. Here are the factors that go into determining your score.
This one might seem more obvious than others. Basically, lenders and banks want to know your behavior when it comes to making payments. If you have a history of late payments or nonpayment, that will negatively impact your score. For the VantageScore, payment history plays another role when they analyze your recent financial behavior.
Amounts Owed, Credit Used, Total Debt
This is the amount of money that you have borrowed through loans or the balance you have on your credit card. When you have a low amount owed or used, this tells banks that you’re a responsible borrower. If it’s higher, then you might be seen as more of a risk.
Student loans and home mortgages might cause this factor to “look bad,” but doesn’t affect your credit score as much if you’re making your payments. A good history for these loans means the accounts have never gone into delinquency or had payments made late. For example, it’s completely possible to have $30,000 or more in student loans and still maintain a score of over 700.
Credit History Length
The length of your credit history can play a valuable role in determining your risk factor when borrowing a loan or opening a credit card. The longer your credit history, the more an institution can see what financial patterns you practice. Someone with a longer credit history has the advantage of showing good behavior while a shorter history doesn’t show much in terms of what your payment behavior might look like.
If you’ve opened or inquired about opening new lines of credit recently, that is not a good sign to banks. They will wonder why you have opened so many so quickly, especially if you have a shorter credit history. Even if you have a long credit history that is good, opening a new account might cause your score to drop a tiny bit, but should go up if you’re being financially responsible with it.
For lines of credit, this is the amount of money that you have available to use at the time your bank reports information to the credit bureaus. You will ideally want to have more credit available than used to maintain a good credit score regardless of the scoring model.
Most people don’t realize that having different types of credit or loans can positively impact your credit scores. If you have all credit cards and have never borrowed money through a loan, there’s a good chance your score could be better.
Next time you’re in need of some extra cash, consider borrowing a small personal loan rather than opening a new credit card. Having both credit card and loan history can benefit you. Also, you won’t be as tempted to use any remaining balance on the credit card after making your purchase. Lastly, your score won’t be dinged if you decide to close the card rather than paying off the loan you borrow.
What is a “good” credit score?
The answer here isn’t as black and white because the different bureaus and scoring models can result in entirely different scores. Each has their own range and what is considered “good.”
For the most part, though, if you have a credit score above 700, you fall into the “good” or “excellent” score area.
Here are the ranges for the FICO and VantageScore scoring models and what is considered “good.”
- Range: 300-850 (some other scores within the FICO scoring model have larger ranges)
- Good: 670-739
- Range: 300-850
- Good: 700-749
Even though the FICO Score for “good” dips below 700, there are two options on the scale above it, “very good” and “excellent.” For VantageScore scores, the scale goes immediately from “good” to “excellent.”
What is the difference between my credit score and credit report?
Even though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, your credit score and credit report are not the same things. Your credit score is determined by your credit report. Your credit score cannot exist without a credit report.
There are three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The reports they put together are an in-depth showcase of your financial history. It includes information like when you opened all your existing and past accounts, payment history, available/used credit, and more.
The information in the reports is what is used to determine your credit score whether it’s a FICO, VantageScore, or another algorithm a bank has created for their own use.
A lender may pull multiple credit scores using different models to better assess the risk of offering you a loan. Also, your credit score will often have some influence over the interest rate and APR you will be offered.
How can I view my credit report?
Several banks now have options for you to track your credit score continuously without paying a fee each month. If your bank doesn’t offer this option, you can get a free credit report summary from Credit Sesame (it’s instant) or request a full report from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Both services can alert you when there is activity on your account and give you an indication of where you stand when you apply for a loan or line of credit. By taking a look at your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion reports, you will have a pretty good understanding of the factors affecting your score.
Personally, I track my credit score each month through my Chase card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier using their Credit Journey product (available with any Chase credit card). It’s free to me and shows credit alerts when I log into my account. It uses the VantageScore credit model and provides my TransUnion report and score. My favorite feature is being able to simulate my score if I pay off a credit card, open a new one, or anticipate future late payments.
Federal law allows anyone who has a credit score to obtain a free copy of their Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion reports each year, but this doesn’t include your score based on the FICO scoring model. If you want a complete FICO credit report, you can purchase it from myFICO.com.
Why do I have different scores from different bureaus?
You might think you would have a single consistent score across the board for each scoring model, which would be nice but is far from true. Each bank and lender can report to any of the bureaus, and sometimes they report to all of them. That’s usually where things can get confusing.
Let’s say your bank reports information to Equifax and not Experian. That would explain why those scores may be slightly different. Equifax would then have different information for calculating their credit report than Experian.
Also, keep in mind that slightly different factors are used and weighed when determining your scores. A single bureau can report multiple scores based on the information they have about your financial history.
How do I know which score my lender will view?
Most top lenders use your FICO score to determine whether they will loan you money, but it’s still beneficial to narrow down and figure out exactly which score they will take into consideration when assessing your risk potential, especially since there's more than one option.
To know for sure which credit score they will view, it’s as easy as asking them. When you’re inquiring about a new loan or credit card, ask which bureau or scoring model they will check. This can also be helpful if your employer asks to see your credit score.
Knowing your credit scores from all bureaus and models can help you find the right borrowing option without getting dinged with tons of inquiries on your credit report. I tend to keep track of mine in a spreadsheet so I can review them over time.
How can I improve my credit scores?
There are several steps you can take to improve your credit score quickly if you’re planning to apply for a loan or want to open a new credit card. Here are three simple steps to get you started.
Make payments on-time
If your recent payment history isn’t the best, make a commitment to yourself to make at least the minimum payments on time for the next year. Better yet, commit to making them on-time forever. A good payment history will help your score inch up to a good standing.
Shop before applying
Before you allow banks and lenders to run your credit score to determine if they can offer you a loan or credit card, ask questions first. Ask them what type of credit score you should have, then decide if you want to apply for the loan or card.
When institutions make an official inquiry about your credit that can affect your score. Imagine allowing 10 different credit card companies to run your credit when you only need one credit card. That doesn’t look good.
Pay down your balances
Whether it’s a credit card or loan, pay down those balances! You don’t have to completely pay them off, although that will definitely help. For credit cards, which usually have the highest interest rates, set a goal to have your credit available be higher than the credit used on each card. As your available credit goes up, your credit card score will likely follow.