Free credit scores vs. FICO: What's the difference?

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At Self, once you’re approved to be a member, you receive access to credit monitoring, credit tracking, and you have the opportunity to apply for a credit builder loan. 

  • Credit monitoring gives you access to a VantageScore 3.0 credit score that we pull from CSID/Experian. There is no charge for you to see this credit score. 

  • Credit tracking, as the name suggests, allows you to track how your credit score changes over time. 

  • A credit builder loan is an installment loan that works like a savings account to help you build credit history.

We receive lots of questions from people about the credit score they see on their Self account. Sometimes they want to know if it is their 'correct' score? Other times they are confused as to why it is different from the score that they receive from credit score websites like Credit Karma and Quizzle

The answer is you have more than just one credit score. 

To better understand what this means and the score that Self provides, it’s useful for you to know a little bit about credit scores and credit scoring algorithms. 

What is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a number between 300–850. This number is calculated by putting all of the information in your credit report into a series of secret, magical math equations (called “credit risk assessment algorithms”). 

There are many different types of credit risk assessment algorithms that have been developed by Credit Reporting Agencies (credit bureaus) and software companies like FICO. 

Each algorithm weighs components from your credit report (like payment history) differently, which is why you can have varying scores depending on which Credit Reporting Agency or software company is computing your score. 

What is a FICO Score?

FICO scores are credit scores that are computed by a company called FICO using their own algorithm. 

The score is calculated using five factors: payment history (35% of overall score), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), types of credit used (10%) and new credit (10%).

FICO gets the information to compute your score from the three major Credit Reporting Agencies’ (CRA)— Experian, Equifax, TransUnion — credit reports. 

Each one of these CRAs obtains information about you from creditors — such as banks, credit card issuers, and finance companies. They can also get your information from public records.

Just like how there are three credit reports for you (one from each CRA), there are also three FICO scores (one from each credit bureau’s information). 

About 90% of lenders pull your credit score from FICO to make an important financial decision about you. 

Pulling a FICO scores costs money and has a negative impact on your score when someone other than yourself pulls it like a lender or employer. 

What is this free score from Self?

The free score from Self is not calculated by FICO, so while it’s not a false score, it’s not the score that most lenders will use to judge whether or not you’re credit worthy. 

The credit score that Self uses is VantageScore 3.0 credit score from Experian/CSID. Experian/CSID developed this score to help people judge their overall credit health. These scores are sometimes 20–30 points below or above your FICO credit score, because VantageScore 3.0 credit score uses a different scoring algorithm than FICO. 

The best thing about the score you monitor and track in your Self account is that it does not cost you anything to see it and gives you a ballpark idea of what lenders will see when they pull your credit score. Also, when your VantageScore 3.0 credit score changes, then that signifies that your FICO score has also changed.

Written on March 28, 2016

Self is a venture-backed startup that helps people build credit and savings.
Comments? Questions? Send us a note at hello@self.inc.

Disclaimer: Self is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.

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