How Credit Works

Why Do I Have Different Credit Scores?

You may notice that depending on where you go to check your credit score, your number seems to fluctuate. This is because there are three different major credit bureaus in the U.S. that independently calculate your score in order to ensure fairness: Experian, Equifax and Transunion. On top of this, these three credit bureaus also use multiple credit scoring models.

The most widely used credit scoring model is FICO® Score, however, VantageScores are quickly gaining steam since their inception in 2006. Each of the three credit bureaus uses a predictive scoring system to evaluate a particular consumer’s credit risk. While all three bureaus use similar models, they each contain small, proprietary differences to calculate your score. However, the basis of each system is similar across the credit bureaus so that consumers with high scores on bureau “A’s” data will likely see a similarly high score at the other two bureaus.

Each bureau gathers information used in their systems independently and none of the three major bureaus share information with the others - meaning they could potentially be working with different information. This often occurs when an account in your credit history has been reported to one bureau but not another. Lenders have the option to pull your credit score from any of the three bureaus and you can never be sure which one lenders will use. Because of this, it’s important to monitor all three reports continuously.

The Difference between Scoring Models

FICO scores had no real competition until 2006, when the three major credit reporting bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — jointly developed an algorithm to produce a new score: the VantageScore.

While FICO and VantageScore are the most famous, there are several other versions and providers of credit scores. Some scores are directly developed by credit bureaus, while others are developed by outside companies. The strength of your credit score depends on the scale used by the scoring model. Below is a quick outline of the most popular models and their scales:

  • FICO: 300-850
  • VantageScore 3.0: 300-850
  • TransUnion (TransRisk): 300-850
  • Experian National Equivalency Score: 360-840
  • Equifax Credit Score: 250-850
While some will try to differentiate themselves by claiming to be “the best,” there is no one universal credit score that is better than the others.

So, why am I seeing different credit scores?

If you’re seeing different scores from each bureau, there could be a few reasons for this. Here are some of the most common ones.

  1. The scores are from different dates. Your score can change at any time. Because information in your credit reports may be updated at different times at each bureau, one credit bureau may be missing an account or other information that either helps or hinders your score. If you pulled your credit report last week from one bureau - there’s always a chance it could be different this week based on new reports.
  2. The scores were calculated using different scoring models. Like a fingerprint, each of the three credit bureaus use slightly different scoring systems. While we know the basis of how your credit score is calculated - each model varies slightly from person to person depending on their history and the requirements of different lenders. For example, a mortgage lender may use a different scoring model than an auto lender because they each place importance on different factors.
  3. The information in your credit reports varies among credit bureaus. This is more common than you may think. Some lenders report to all three credit bureaus, while others may report to none at all. Of course, it’s also a good idea to check your credit reports for errors periodically since an error could affect your score.

Did you know?

  • Creditors are not required to report your account information to the credit bureaus. While businesses are legally required to report accurate information, there’s no law that requires them to report information at all. When applying for a loan - make sure the lender reports your on-time payment history to all three bureaus.
  • Not all credit scores are "FICO" scores. So, make sure the scores you are comparing are actual FICO Scores.
  • You may have applied for credit under different names (for example, Robert Jones versus Bob Jones) or a maiden name, which may cause fragmented or incomplete files at the credit reporting agencies. While, in most cases, the credit bureaus combine all files accurately under the same person, there are many instances where incomplete files or inaccurate data (social security numbers, addresses, etc.) cause one person’s information to appear on someone else’s credit report.
Though your scores may vary, they’re all based on information in your credit reports. So focusing on what’s in your reports could help you build your credit overall.