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FICO® Scores☉ and credit scores can be the same thing—but FICO® also creates different products, and other companies create credit scores. You can think of a credit score as the general name for a computer model that analyzes consumer credit reports to determine a score. FICO® offers a specific brand of credit score—a FICO® Score—that many lenders use when determining a credit applicant's creditworthiness. But some lenders choose to make their own scoring models or use competitor's credit scores.
Is a FICO® Score the Same as a Credit Score?
As with all credit risk scores, FICO® Scores predict the likelihood that someone will fall 90 days behind on a bill within the next 24 months. FICO® does this using complex algorithms based on information in your credit report from each of the national credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
FICO® periodically releases new versions of its scores, and it creates different versions of its scores to work with each bureau's databases, which is why there are many FICO® Scores. Other companies, including VantageScore®, also create credit risk scores that similarly analyze consumer credit reports to calculate scores.
Credit scoring models rank consumer credit behavior, so someone with a higher score is considered less likely to miss a payment than someone with a lower score—and therefore, a higher score can help you secure better terms when you're applying for credit.
FICO® and VantageScore credit scores range from 300 to 850, and group consumers by credit scoring ranges. For example, a FICO® Score of 800 to 850 is considered "exceptional." However, even if they use the same range and information from the same credit report, each scoring model takes a unique approach that may result in a different score.
FICO® also creates other types of scores that are based in part, or entirely, on your credit reports. For example, FICO® offers credit-based insurance scores and bankruptcy scores, which try to predict the chance you'll file an insurance claim or declare bankruptcy, respectively.
Why Do I Have Different FICO® Scores?
As mentioned above, FICO® creates different FICO® Score models to work with each credit bureau's credit reports. And, FICO® periodically releases new FICO® Score models to incorporate changing consumer behavior, new regulations and technological advances. Because not all lenders and businesses use the same scoring models or versions, you may have several—or even hundreds—of credit scores.
For example, the FICO® 10 T score is a variation of the FICO® Score 10, the latest version of the company's base scoring model. It's the first FICO® Score to consider trended data—a look at how you've managed accounts over the past 24 months. But lenders may use older models, such as the FICO® Score 8 or FICO® Score 9—or even older versions—when determining whether to approve a loan or credit card application. Or they may choose to use one of VantageScore's credit scoring models, such as its most recent 3.0 and 4.0 versions.
FICO®'s base scores aren't intended for a specific type of lender or loan. But FICO® also creates industry-specific scores for auto lenders and credit card issuers. These models build on top of a base model to give creditors in that industry a more tailored score, which ranges from 250 to 900.
What Is My Real Credit Score?
Companies can choose which score to purchase and use when reviewing applications and managing customers' accounts, which is one reason there's competition in the credit scoring world. With this in mind, there isn't a single, "real" credit score.
For example, when you're shopping for an auto loan, you may try to get offers from several lenders. One lender might use a FICO® Score 8, another a FICO® Auto Score 2, and a third a VantageScore 4.0. Your scores may vary, but each is very real in the sense that the lender is using it to determine if you qualify for a loan and the rates and terms to offer you.
Generally, you won't know which of your three credit reports or which credit score a lender will use. However, because credit scores all rely on the same underlying data, building positive credit can help you get good credit scores regardless of the model. Conversely, negative items, such as late payments or a bankruptcy, could hurt all of your credit scores.
Check Your FICO® Score for Free
While there are newer FICO® Score versions available, FICO® Score 8 remains one of the most widely used versions. Partially, this is because lenders need to invest time and money into switching to a new scoring model. You can check your FICO® Score 8 based on your Experian credit report for free online. You'll also learn about which factors are most helping or hurting your scores and can track your score over time.