Often people talk about a credit score as if each person has just one. In fact, there are three different consumer credit bureaus that review lending histories and provide an individualized score to each person.
The three major companies are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. While each gives you a credit score, rarely are all three scores identical. Each is slightly different; a variance of 25-50 points between the three scores is common. This begs the question, “how did they look at the same information and come up with three different assessments?”
Here’s what you need to know about the different credit scores and scoring models and what they mean for you.
Experian is a California-based company geared towards helping individuals monitor and build their credit. It was established over 125 years ago to help navigate the world of lending. This bureau focuses a lot on financial data and security, as well as credit monitoring.
Equifax is in a similar position at the intersection of technology, finance, and data analytics. They view themselves as positive facilitators of economic participation for people and communities. The data they collect increases accountability and integrity in the financial markets. Most people only interact with Equifax when they have to pull their credit report, but the institution also has a foundation to increase financial inclusion and credit access.
Finally, TransUnion rounds out the big three. They use credit data and public records to give consumers and lenders confidence to transact with one another. Like Experian and Equifax, TransUnion offers individuals the opportunity to review their own credit and lenders to know more about potential borrowers.
All three credit bureaus are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which allows each person to access one free credit report from each credit bureau per year. If you want to know more about how to access your free credit report, head to www.annualcreditreport.com.
Although credit bureaus see the same information, some weigh certain factors more heavily than others. There are multiple scoring models used by each agency, but the two primary models are FICO® and VantageScore. All three major credit bureaus use both scores, although some lenders focus on one over the other.
FICO® weighs risk and consumer behavior by breaking data into 5 different weighted categories:
- 35% – Payment history: Payment history assesses if you have paid past credit accounts on time, a higher score comes with more on-time payments.
- 30% – Amounts owed: It’s okay to owe money on your accounts, but if you are using a lot of your available credit, this may indicate that you are overextended and may miss a payment.
- 15% – Length of credit history: Having a longer credit history is positive (but not required) for your FICO scores.
- 10% – Credit mix: FICO considers your mix of credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts, and mortgage loans. Diversity is good, but not required for a higher score. Having dozens of credit or store cards, however, can look suspicious.
- 10% – New credit: You may see decreases in your score if you open several accounts in a short amount of time—especially if you don’t have a long credit history.
As you can see, more than half of the FICO® score is determined by amounts owed and payment history. Add in the credit history, and that’s 80% of the total score.
If you focus on those three things, your FICO® score can be very healthy.
VantageScore was founded by all three major credit bureaus in 2006. The site says it can score approximately 96% of American adults, which drives more equitable access to credit. The model is in its fourth iteration, and the site explains that the tool is designed to look at credit behavior over time, rather than as a snapshot. The model breakdowns are a bit different from FICO®:
- 41% – Payment history: Given even more weight than FICO®’s score, VantageScore calculates repayment behavior based on satisfactory, delinquency, and derogatory marks.
- 20% – Utilization: The proportion of credit amount used (what is owed on all accounts) compared to your total credit limits. Here it is less about the dollar amount, and more about the percentage used.
- 20% – Age/mix: Also referred to as “age and type” or “depth of credit”, this combines two factors from FICO®’s calculation to evaluate your overall credit history.
- 11% – New credit: Like FICO®, VantageScore will deduct points for too many recently opened accounts or hard credit inquiries at once.
- 6% – Balance: Balances examine the total amount of recently reported balances, both current and delinquent.
- 2% – Available credit: A slight differentiation from utilization, available credit looks at the total amount of credit you have available to use.
As with FICO®, making timely payments and having older accounts is important to building healthy credit with the VantageScore model.
Scoring tiers for each model
It’s likely you’ve also heard of credit tiers, the things that categorize how strong of credit you have. Once again, each model has a different tiering system. Though your score can jump from one tier to the next quickly based on all of the scoring model weights mentioned above, it’s important to pay attention to where you fall.
FICO® breaks its score tiers into five categories. VantageScore, on the other hand, only has 4 categories:
- Exceptional: 800-850
- Very good: 740-799
- Good: 670-739
- Fair: 580-669
- Poor: 300-579
- Excellent: 781-850
- Good: 661-780
- Fair: 601-660
- Poor: 300-600
While each score is different in its own way, most scores are generally in the same range, and they are largely based on the same types of information. Focus on the four most influential factors that every bureau considers, and you’ll set yourself up to improve your credit outlook.