It's good practice to check your credit report and credit score to see where you stand before applying for a loan. However, the credit score you see is unlikely to be the same one your lender uses when making a decision on your creditworthiness. Both scores likely are accurate, but lenders use specialized scores calculated differently depending on the type of loan.
While this means you won't be seeing exactly what the lender sees, it's still generally a good idea to review your credit report and credit score to gauge how likely you are to be approved or if you should work on your credit more before you apply. However, don’t get your mind set on a specific interest rate or even on guaranteed loan approval based on a credit score you purchased over the internet. Use the score to gauge your general credit rating and don’t forget that lenders consider other factors besides your credit.
The Credit Scores Lenders Use
The score you pulled from the credit bureaus or another third-party provider was an educational credit score, provided just to give you a perspective on your credit standing. They’re not the scores that lenders actually use to approve your application. Services that provide credit scores include this information in their disclaimers.
On top of that, you likely purchased a generic credit score that covers a range of credit products. Creditors and lenders use more specific industry credit scores customized for the type of credit product you’re applying for. For example, auto lenders typically use a credit score that better predicts the likelihood that you would default on an auto loan. Mortgage lenders use a score developed specifically for mortgage loans. Your lender also might also use a proprietary credit score that’s developed for use by just that company.
The score the lender pulls might differ from the one you used sometimes by several points, possibly enough to disqualify you from the best interest rate or maybe enough to have your application denied. When you order your credit report and score from myFICO, you'll receive access to the most widely used FICO industry scores. This will give the best idea of what the lender sees when they check your credit score.
Credit Report Discrepancies
There are two common reasons why the information in your copy of your credit report might be different from the information in your lender's copy. There are three major credit bureaus, which means there are three versions of your report. Plus, data may have been updated in the time between you pulled your report and when your lender pulled it.
Minor discrepancies among your credit reports from the three credit bureaus can be attributed to factors such as the timing of updated data, but it's a good idea to monitor all three reports. A major discrepancy often is a red flag in need of immediate attention.
The three credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each is collecting the same information about your credit history, but it's not uncommon for there to be slight variations among the different reports. If, for example, you pulled a copy of your Experian report and your lender is looking at your TransUnion report, the data may not be identical.
Changes to your credit report also might explain major variations. If it’s been several days or weeks since you accessed your credit report, changes in data might lead to updated information. If the score you pulled is based on one credit report, and the lender’s is based on another, there will be differences due to differences in data between the two reports. It's also possible the score the lender is using is based on all three of your credit reports.
If a lender denies your application or approves you with less favorable terms because of your credit score, it is required to send you a copy of that credit report and score. If you’re applying for a mortgage, the lender must provide you with a copy of the credit score used to qualify you for the loan.
Remember that your credit score is based on your credit report. Before applying for a loan, review your credit reports to be sure the data on each of them is accurate. Take care of past due balances and errors before you apply for the loan to be sure your credit is in the best shape possible.