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Keeping Score: Facts about Credit Scores 

Who's keeping score? The credit industry is. Every time you apply for a new credit card, a mortgage, perhaps even an insurance policy or a job, your credit can be under scrutiny.

What is a credit score?

Your credit score--that three-digit number that summarizes your credit history--is in many cases the most influential factor in a lender’s decision to grant you credit and at what rate. The higher the score, the less you’ll pay for the use of someone else’s money. While lenders are the primary users of credit scores, some employers, landlords, and insurance companies also use them to evaluate applicants. As information in your credit file changes, so will your credit score.

Know your score

Most consumers believe lenders only use one credit score. While it's true that most lenders use FICO scores, there are literally hundreds of different kinds of credit scores in use today. Here are some scoring methods:

FICO Score--The most widely used credit scoring model is FICO, and scores from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) are available at myFICO.com for $15.95 each. You can obtain one free credit report annually from each of these bureaus through annualcreditreport.com, which can be helpful in monitoring and correcting errors in your credit history.

If you buy your FICO score from more than one credit bureau, you might see a different number on each one. This occurs because not all creditors report to all three bureaus.

VantageScore--The three major credit bureaus also jointly developed a scoring system, launched in 2006, called VantageScoreSM. Although this system doesn’t eliminate inconsistent credit file data among the bureaus, it does provide a uniform scoring formula. The VantageScoreSM scale ranges from 501 to 990 and parallels a grading system of A to F.

The credit reporting bureaus claim market demand triggered the development of VantageScore and that its aim is to reflect current changes in consumer credit behaviors and to assist those with limited credit history.

Alternative credit scores--In addition to selling the FICO or VantageScore, credit reporting agencies, other credit score developers, and lenders may promote their own scores. For example, TransUnion offers consumers a service that tracks changes in credit reports and scores for $14.95 a month. These tend to vary widely from source to source because, in addition to differences in the underlying data, each provider also uses a different scoring formula and scale.

Why should you know your credit score?

“We hear so many stories about consumers still being steered toward predatory lenders, even though their score is good enough for a regular, lower-interest loan or credit product,” says Linda Sherry, Consumer Action’s director of national priorities (consumer-action.org), a San Francisco-based national nonprofit consumer education and advocacy organization.

In order to understand your credit score, Sherry says, you have to know two things: what credit scoring model you’ve purchased, and how you rank on that scale. For instance, a FICO score of 750, on a scale of 300 to 850, indicates low credit risk, but the same score on the VantageScore scale earns you a grade of C, which can be risky. Remember that a number is only significant within the range of its particular scoring model.

Published 06/17/2015 


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