Contrary to what you may have seen or heard, you do not have just one single credit score. Further, you do not have three credit scores (one from each of the three credit reporting agencies). The reality is that when you add up all the different credit score brands, generations and variants, you actually have hundreds of different credit scores. Yes, hundreds … and none of them are “fake.”
Why the Confusion?
Credit can be a confusing subject, but there is an extraordinary amount of misinformation and myth where credit scores are concerned. Between advertisements that entice you to "get your free credit score" (suggesting you only have one) and statements that suggest the existence of a so-called fictitious “FAKO” credit score, you may be one of the many consumers who is surprised to learn that you do not have just one single universal credit score. In fact, credit scores are like cars, soft drink options and hotel chains … there are many and they’re all legitimate.
FICO vs. FAKO
FICO and VantageScore are the two most popular brands of credit scores. If you were to apply for a loan, pull your own credit scores and apply for a new insurance policy all in the same day, chances are high that all three of the credit scores checked would be different, perhaps significantly. So, which of those scores is real and which is fake?
None are fake because they’re all commercially available and used by lenders. Of course if you are applying for any kind of new financing, the credit score(s) that will matter to you the most will be the score(s) used by that particular lender. The FICO brand of credit scores is commonly used by lenders, as are the VantageScore credit scores. Both scoring systems boast a list of users that are a “who’s who” of financial services companies.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) states that for a credit score to be used by a lender it must meet certain criteria. First, it must be empirically derived. That means that the scoring model must be built using a scientific process and not based on hunches or assumptions. Second, the scoring model must be demonstrably and statistically sound. That means that the users of the scoring models must be able to prove that it can predict risk accurately. If a credit scoring model meets these criteria, it can be used, legally, in the U.S financial services system to assess consumer risk. All of FICO’s and VantageScore’s credit scores meet these ECOA requirements.
All Credit Scores Have Value
Only recently have credit scores become so accessible to consumers. Whether you’re getting your scores from your credit card issuer, a mortgage lender, a consumer website or via the credit bureaus directly, all of those scores have value because they reflect the quality of your credit reports. So, if you have great credit reports, you’re going to have great credit scores whether it’s a VantageScore, Equifax Risk Score, PLUS Score or FICO score. Conversely, if you have poor credit reports, you’ll have poor credit scores regardless of the score type.
If you have great credit reports, you’re going to have great credit scores whether it’s a VantageScore, Equifax Risk Score, PLUS Score or FICO score.
Even if you are loyal to one score brand, it’s very unlikely that the score you get today will be the same as your score next week or sometime in the future when you apply for credit. For example, if you were to apply for a mortgage loan today, the lender is obligated to send you what’s called a Score Disclosure Notice. This has been an obligation for well over 10 years. Those scores will likely be FICO brand scores because FICO scores are used in mortgage lending because of Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) policy. The FICO scores used in mortgage lending are also based on models that are several generations old.
Now, if you were to apply for credit with a bank for a credit card or auto loan and they too used FICO scores, those scores would be different than your scores from the mortgage lender because A) the bank uses are more current version of the scoring model for credit card and auto lending and B) the bank likely uses a variation of the FICO score semi-customized for either auto lending or credit card issuing. So, despite all the aforementioned score examples falling under the FICO score brand, you can bet the ranch that they’ll be different three-digit numbers. But, what they’ll all have in common is that they’ll suggest the same thing about your credit risk: whether you’re a good credit risk or a poor credit risk … and none of them will be “fake.”