By Randi Gollin | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
5 Min Read | June 14, 2021 in Credit Score
There are many different types of credit scores used for different reasons, and they all can fluctuate based on whose data is used to calculate them.
The three major credit bureaus gather data independently and may even use proprietary formulas to weigh credit score factors like payment history and credit mix.
The timing of a credit report pull can also affect your credit score.
When lenders ask each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – for your credit score to predict your credit risk, they usually get scores ranging from 300 to 850. The greater the number, the better your chances of being approved for credit cards and loans, and the lower the interest rate you’ll likely be offered.
But you may have different credit scores, depending on the bureau. How is that possible?
In scoring your history, credit bureaus typically use the same scoring model – usually FICO – but they work independently, don’t share information, and have proprietary algorithms to weigh and calculate the five main factors that make up your credit score: payment history, credit utilization, amount of credit owed, credit age/history, credit mix, and new credit. What’s more, there are many types of credit scores.
Since the credit bureaus use similar predictive scoring systems to figure out your credit risk, if you have a high score with one bureau, you’ll likely have a high score across the board. Still, scores can vary by several points because bureaus use multiple credit score versions, further distilled into two main categories: base scores and industry-specific scores. Lenders decide which FICO score version they’ll use when evaluating your credit risk.
Base credit scores help predict the likelihood that you will or won’t pay your agreed credit obligation, whether a mortgage, credit card, or student loan. Base scores come in many historical versions, and lenders generally aren’t obligated to upgrade to the most recent – meaning a lender might still use FICO Score 8 even though FICO Score 10 was announced in early 2020. Industry-specific scores are optimized for lenders that may be asking for your credit score to assess risk on specific types of credit obligation, like car loans, mortgages, and insurance companies.
While base credit scores and industry-specific credit scores use the same scoring models, their algorithms can be adjusted to give lenders more targeted risk assessments. There are 19 different FICO scoring models that can be used by lenders,1 and FICO itself has over 50 different versions of your score that it can send to lenders.2 Your score may vary depending on the questions the lender asks and its priorities. In other words, you may have a different FICO score for a car dealer than for a bank, even if both are considering your car loan.
Your credit reports are typically updated in real time, so they might, for example, change the moment you pay your credit card bill since payment history and credit utilization ratio are factored into your creditworthiness. However, credit scores aren’t necessarily pulled at the same time, so your credit files across the three bureaus may have different information at a particular moment – some of which may no longer be up-to-date.
So, even if all three credit bureaus use the same credit scoring model, inconsistencies could still occur among the credit scores due to variations in the data – meaning your score can sometimes fluctuate by 20 points or more.3 That’s why lenders and creditors looking to evaluate your risk and understand your past financial affairs will sometimes request scores from all three bureaus and then use the middle score when making decisions about your credit or loans.
Most lenders, credit card companies, and other financial institutions submit financial data in monthly reports to the three bureaus, but they don’t always share the same information. Just as timing can fluctuate, so can the sources of information for different types of credit reports, and that, too, can affect variations in credit scores. For instance, an account in collection may appear on one credit report but not another. Such negative information – accounts in collection, foreclosures, and bankruptcies, which credit bureaus often refer to as “derogatory” items – are considered part of your payment history and can carry more weight than other factors, which can adversely affect credit scores.
If you’re dealing with a smaller bank, they might apply a “judgmental” credit scoring model to gauge your creditworthiness. Unlike FICO’s statistical models that automatically correlate and assign weights to data factors, judgmental models rely on the lender’s expertise to assess credit risk, usually by someone manually scoring many of the same criteria used by statistical models.
But judgmental credit scoring is less common than it once was. Statistical credit scoring models are better suited to help lenders make quick, accurate, and impartial decisions in minutes or days for just about everything from mortgage applications to extending credit limits on credit cards.
You can have different credit scores for many reasons. For starters, the three major credit bureaus work independently and use proprietary algorithms to calculate the key factors in your score. They also use multiple versions of base scores and industry-specific scores, with lenders deciding which version to use when evaluating risk for a particular type of debt. In addition, lenders don’t always share identical information at the same time and credit scores aren’t always pulled at the same time, all of which result in many different types of potential credit scores.