Why You Have Different Credit Scores

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If you've ever purchased a three-in-one credit score or retrieved your free credit scores from multiple sites in a single day, you might have noticed that your credit scores are different among the three credit bureaus. As if understanding your credit score wasn't difficult enough, having different credit scores makes it even tougher. Don't worry. Having different credit scores is normal; here's why that happens.

Credit bureaus use different credit scoring models

There are dozens of credit score models and each of them can give you a different credit score. For example, each of the three credit bureaus uses their own model for calculating your credit score plus the bureaus worked together to develop the VantageScore. FICO, one of the most widely known credit scoring companies, has their own credit scoring model. Banks and other screening services may also have different credit scoring models.

The credit bureaus and FICO periodically release new versions of their credit scoring models. Adoption rates for new models can be slow, so many lenders continue using the older models.

Credit bureaus have different credit report data

Credit bureaus collect data independently of each other – and they typically don't share it. Not only that, your creditors and lenders might report data only to one or two of the credit bureaus.

So, your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports might all look different from each other depending on the information contained in each credit report.

Each credit bureau calculates your credit score with the data in its credit file. For example, Experian calculates your credit score with the data in your Experian credit report.

So, if you have a collection account that appears on your TransUnion credit report, but not on your Experian credit report, then your TransUnion credit score might be lower.

Which credit score is your lender using?

Lenders usually have established relationships with one or more of the credit bureaus. You can ask your lender from which credit bureau it purchases credit scores (they may or may not tell you), but you typically can't request that your lender use a certain credit bureau to retrieve your score.

Most lenders use the FICO score developed by FICO, the company formerly known as Fair Isaac. You can purchase your FICO score based on Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports from myFICO.com. (For a few years, Experian-based FICO scores were unavailable for consumer purchase, but they have recently been made available again.)

There are scores you don't know about

In addition to the credit scores you can purchase, there are a few other industry-specific credit scores that businesses have access to that you can't purchase directly. For example, there's an auto insurance score, bankruptcy prediction score, and mortgage credit score. These scores won't match anything you purchase online because they're adjusted for that industry.

Your generic credit scores that you get online are for informational purposes only.

Is checking your credit score worth it?

Even though the credit score you're checking probably won't match the score your lender receives, it's still important to check your credit score. Your score will give you a general idea of where your credit stands, that is, whether you have a good credit score or bad credit score. You'll get a good indication of whether you need to improve your credit or if your odds of getting approved for a credit card or loan are in your favor. If possible, review at least one credit score for each of your three credit reports so you have an idea of your complete credit picture.