Credit Score Frequently Asked Questions

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As though understanding credit isn’t confusing enough, navigating your way through credit scores can be downright maddening. What’s a good score, and what’s a bad one? How are they calculated? How are FICO Scores and VantageScores different? Which ones do lenders see? Which ones do you need to see? Are they free and, if so, where can you find them? Below are answers to these and other commonly asked questions about credit scores.

About Credit Scores

Types of Credit Scores

Checking Credit Scores

Credit Scores Used by Lenders

Are credit scores free?

Unlike credit reports, consumers are not automatically entitled to see credit scores for free every 12 months. You can, however, see them for free under the following circumstances:

  • Free VantageScores through credit monitoring sites
  • Free FICO Scores through Discover and some other credit card issuers
  • Free access to score used to deny credit or give worse credit terms

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Which credit score matters?

The credit score that matters most is the one your next potential lender looks at. It might be your base FICO Score. It might be an industry-specific FICO score (e.g., for a credit card or auto loan). Or it might not be FICO at all, but VantageScore; it’s not used as often, but VantageScore does get checkedBack to Top

Which credit score is most used?

There’s no question as FICO Scores get used more than VantageScores. And, specifically, FICO Score 8 is used most. What’s not clear is which credit bureau is used most to generate FICO Scores. That’s why it’s important to ensure accuracy of all three credit reports. One error on one report could mean a lower FICO Score from that bureau. Back to Top

Who calculates credit scores?

Credit scores are calculated by the big three national credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. These calculations are determined by algorithms used to turn information in credit reports into three-digit numbers. But while you only have one credit report for each bureau, you have multiple credit scores generated by these reports, including VantageScores and FICO Scores. Back to Top

When do credit scores update?

On any given day of the month, a data furnisher could send new credit information to the credit bureaus. As soon as the credit bureau updates your credit report accordingly, expect that new information to be calculated into your credit score. This means there is no specific day when credit scores get updated; theoretically, they can update daily. Back to Top

What credit scores are good and bad?

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. This applies to both FICO Scores and VantageScores. Every lender judges a credit score based on its own internal system, but generally the range of things looks like this:

  • 800-850 – Excellent credit
  • 740-799 – Very good credit
  • 670-739 – Good credit
  • 580 to 669 – Fair credit
  • 300-579 – Bad credit

Industry-specific FICO Scores range a little differently, from 250 to 900. Back to Top

Who checks credit scores?

When you apply for credit—or for a service through certain types of companies—expect them to check your credit score. This includes:

  • Banks
  • Credit card issuers
  • Mortgage lenders
  • Auto lenders
  • Landlords
  • Car insurance companies
  • Car rental companies
  • Cell phone companies
  • Utility companies
  • Government agencies

Note: Though some employers check credit reports, they do not see credit scores. Back to Top

Are credit scores global?

There is no global credit score that crosses international borders. That means the credit scores you have in the United States will not influence your ability to get credit should you move to another country. While starting over might sound good if you have bad credit, keep mind outstanding debt can prevent you from obtaining a visaBack to Top

What is a VantageScore vs FICO?

FICO is the original credit scoring system created by Fair, Isaac, and Company. VantageScore is an alternative credit scoring system created by the three national credit bureaus. Both use the same credit scoring range (300-850). What’s different is how FICO and VantageScore algorithms weight different categories of credit information to generate scores. Learn more about FICO vs VantageScore. Back to Top

Who uses VantageScore?

The importance of VantageScores is often minimized because they aren’t used as often as FICO. But over 11,000 lenders (and other industry participants) used VantageScores as of June 2019. One reason lenders like VantageScore is because it scores consumers FICO won’t due to being too new to the credit market or using credit too infrequently. Back to Top

Who uses FICO Score?

FICO Scores are used by 90 percent of top lenders, and this has not changed much since the Vantage Score was created. The most widely used is FICO Score 8. But other FICO Scores are used for industry-specific purposes. Credit card issuers look at FICO Bankcard Scores. Auto lenders look at FICO Auto Scores. And mortgage lenders look at older versions of your base FICO Score. Back to Top

Where does FICO Score come from?

Your FICO Score was created by Fair, Isaac, and Company, now known as FICO. Founded in 1956, Fair Isaac built its first credit scoring system for American investments in 1958. Today, each of the big three credit bureaus generates base FICO Scores and industry-specific FICO Scores—scores based on information provided by data furnishers and compiled into credit reports. Back to Top

Why does my FICO Score fluctuate?

Your FICO Score is based on information in your credit reports. As that information changes—which can happen multiple times a month—you can expect your FICO Score to change with it. So, it’s normal for your FICO Score to fluctuate. If you’re doing everything right but it dips a little, it will probably bounce right back. Back to Top

Why is my FICO Score lower than Experian?

Experian uses a unique scoring system to generate an Experian Credit Score. And like the other two credit bureaus, Experian also generates a VantageScore. So, it’s probably one of those two scores that’s different from the FICO Score you’re seeing. (Though it should be noted Experian generates a FICO Score, too.) They’re different because they use different algorithms. Back to Top

Why is my FICO Score lower than Equifax?

All three credit bureaus generate FICO Scores. Unfortunately, it can be confusing because all three bureaus also generate VantageScores. So, if you’re seeing a FICO Score that’s different than your Equifax score, the Equifax score is probably a VantageScore. Even if they’re based on the same credit report, the scores will be different because the algorithms are different. Back to Top

Which credit score should I check?

If you want to finance a home or car, check your base FICO and industry-specific scores (which you’ll have to pay for). We recommend the FICO Score Advanced Plan. For year-round credit monitoring, free credit scores should do—VantageScores through free credit monitoring sites and complimentary FICO Score through Discover (or your credit card issuer, if provided).  Back to Top

Where to get credit scores online?

Get free VantageScores through:

Get a complimentary FICO Score through Discover.

You can also purchase credit scores through TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. But if you’re going to pay for it, we recommend going through for the one-time FICO Score 3-Bureau Report or FICO Advantage plan for monthly access. Back to Top

Are credit scores on Credit Karma accurate?

Credit scores on Credit Karma are VantageScores based on your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports. So, if information on those reports is accurate, the credit scores will be, too. Also, make sure you’re not judging the accuracy of a VantageScore by its comparison to a FICO Score. They’re based on different algorithms, so probably won’t be the same. Back to Top

Where is credit score on Experian report?

Credit reports don’t include credit scores. However, you can see your Experian credit score (and report) through, a free credit monitoring site. After signing up, go to your Credit Report Card. You’ll find your Experian Credit Score in the top left corner. Select “Other Scores” and you’ll see your VantageScore. (For Experian FICO Score, go to Back to Top

Where is credit score on Equifax report?

As is the case with all credit reports, your Equifax report won’t include a credit score. However, you can see your Equifax credit score (and report) through Credit Karma, a free credit monitoring site. After signing up, go to your Dashboard. You’ll see your Equifax VantageScore, as well as TransUnion VantageScore. (For Equifax FICO Score, go to Back to Top

Which credit score do lenders use?

There’s not one specific credit score used by lenders. They may use a FICO Score or VantageScore. And they can get these scores through any of the three credit bureaus. They can also use different score versions. To find out what a particular lender uses, try asking which credit score they pull. Back to Top

What credit scores are needed to buy a house?

Every lender has its own home loan criteria, including minimum credit scores. However, we do know that the minimum FICO Score required by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac is 620, and the minimum for an FHA loan with only a 3.5% down payment is 580, if you put 10% down, your score can be in the range of 500-579. Keep in mind, though, that having at least the minimum credit score will not guarantee financing. Back to Top

Which credit score do mortgage lenders use?

Most mortgage lenders use old FICO Score versions. Through TransUnion, it’s FICO Score 4, Equifax FICO Score 5, and Experian FICO Score 2. You should expect them to pull scores from two or three credit bureaus. As reported by Forbes, if they pull two scores, they’ll use the lowest one. If they pull three, they’ll use the middle. Back to Top

Which credit score is used for auto loans?

Expect auto lenders to look at your base FICO Score, as well as industry-specific scores (i.e., FICO Auto Scores). Expect the base to be FICO Score 8, but the industry-specific scores will vary depending on which credit bureau they use:

  • Transunion – Auto Scores 8 and 4
  • Experian – Auto Scores 8 and 2
  • Equifax – Auto Scores 8 and 5

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What FICO Score does Discover use?

For the base score, expect Discover (and other credit card issuers) to use FICO Score 8. But when it comes to industry-specific scores, it will depend on which credit bureau they pull from. If it’s:

  • Experian – FICO Bankcard Score 8 and 2 (and FICO Score 3)
  • Equifax – FICO Bankcard Score 8 and 5
  • TransUnion – FICO Bankcard Score 8 and 4

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What FICO Score is needed for American Express?

For the base score, expect American Express (and other credit card issuers) to use FICO Score 8. When it comes to industry-specific scores, it depends on which credit bureau they pull from. According to the Credit Pulls Database, American Express seems to pull exclusively from Experian, in which case they’ll see FICO Bankcard Score 8 and 2 (and FICO Score 3).Back to Top

Didn’t find the answer to your question here? Ask in our free, friendly forum on credit bureaus, reports, and scoresBack to Top

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