FICO Score vs. Credit Score – What Is the Difference?

Credit Score Calculator
BY Rebecca Lake
Aug 1, 2022
Key Takeaways:
  • The terms “FICO score” and “credit score” do not mean exactly the same thing.
  • All FICO scores are credit scores, but not all credit scores are FICO scores.
  • The VantageScore model is an alternative to FICO. It was created by all three major credit bureaus.

Lenders typically check your credit history when you apply for a loan or credit card. The information on your credit reports – and incorporated into your credit scores – determines whether you're approved or not.

A credit score is a three-digit number that measures how responsibly you use credit and debt. Credit scoring models like FICO calculate these scores from the information in your credit reports. That means you probably have more than one credit score. 

Lenders use different credit scoring models to apply to your credit report data. The most popular models are FICO and VantageScore. Here's a closer look at the difference between a FICO score vs. credit score and how FICO compares to VantageScore.

What Is a FICO score?

The FICO score is a credit scoring model created by the Fair Isaac Corporation. These scores range from 300 to 850, with 850 considered a "perfect" credit score. Ninety percent of top lenders use FICO scores in credit decisions.

The FICO model generates a score from the information in consumer credit reports issued by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Different FICO scoring models gauge a person's borrowing risk. But generally, FICO scores incorporate five key factors:

  • Payment history. The most significant part of FICO score calculations, 35%, is payment history. On-time payments help your credit score, while late or missed payments harm your score.

  • Credit utilization. Credit utilization ratio represents how much of your available credit you use at any given time. This factor accounts for 30% of your FICO credit score.

  • Credit age. Credit age refers to how long you've been using credit. It makes up 15% of your FICO score.

  • Credit mix. Credit mix means the types of credit you have experience using, i.e., installment loans and revolving debt. This factor totals 10% of your FICO score calculation.

  • Credit inquiries. Inquiries mean how often you apply for new credit when a lender does a hard pull of your credit report. Inquiries account for 10% of your FICO score. 

There are specific minimum requirements you need to meet to have a FICO score. To have a valid FICO score calculation, your credit report must:

  • Include at least one account that's been open for six months or more

  • Include at least one account that's been reported to the credit bureaus for the past six months

  • Not indicate that you're deceased

Credit scores generally measure how good you are at borrowing money and paying it back responsibly. If you've never had any kind of credit in your name, it's possible that you might not have a FICO score or any type of credit score at all. 

On the other hand, you might have multiple FICO credit scores if you have a little more experience with using credit. FICO has multiple scoring models that lenders can choose from to evaluate your creditworthiness, including:

  • FICO 8 (most widely used)

  • FICO 9 

  • FICO 10

  • FICO Auto Scores

  • FICO 2, 4 and 5 (used in mortgage lending)

There are also industry-specific models for auto lending and credit cards. Lenders can run any of these scoring models against the information in your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus. So you could easily have 50 or more FICO scores in all.

It's important to note that those credit scores might not be identical. All credit scores are the result of formulas being applied to the information in your three credit reports. When your credit reports don't include the same information, that can cause you to have different FICO scores.

For example, you might have a loan that's reported to Equifax but not Experian or TransUnion, which could skew your score calculations. Or your creditors report at different times to different bureaus – so your reported balances may vary, and that influences your credit utilization and your score. 

So what's more important when applying for loans, a FICO score vs. credit score? 

The simple answer is that FICO scores are credit scores. In most instances, if a lender checks your credit scores, it's the FICO scores they're looking at. There are other types of credit scores that lenders can consider. But FICO scores continue to be the dominant decision-making tool lenders use when approving credit applications. 

What Are Other Types of Credit Scores?

As mentioned, FICO scores aren't the only credit scores lenders can use for credit decisions. VantageScore is another credit scoring model lenders can rely on.

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion developed the VantageScore model in 2006. These scores range from 300 to 850 and thousands of lenders use these scores to gauge consumers' credit health. Over three billion VantageScores have been issued to date.

There are four variations of the VantageScore, with VantageScore 4.0 being the most recent. This scoring model uses trended data and machine learning technology to generate credit scores used by auto lenders, credit card companies, banks and personal loan lenders.

So what's the difference between FICO score vs. VantageScore? 

FICO scores and VantageScore scores are based on the information in your credit reports. But these two models take a different approach to generating credit scores. 

Here's what goes into calculating a VantageScore:

  • Total credit usage, balance and available credit. The amount of credit you're using is extremely influential in determining your VantageScore. Generally, utilizing less of your credit limit is better as it makes you appear less risky in lenders' eyes.

  • Credit mix and experience. Your credit mix is highly influential for VantageScore calculations. Using different types of credit, such as car loans, personal loans, credit cards or a mortgage can work in your favor.

  • Payment history. Payment history, including how often you pay on time, is moderately influential in the VantageScore model. On-time payments can help to improve your score over time.

  • Credit age. Credit age or how long you've been using credit matters for VantageScore calculations, though it's less influential than other factors.

  • New accounts opened. The VantageScore model also considers inquiries for new credit, though, like credit age, they're less influential.

As you can see, the factors that go into a VantageScore are more or less the same as those used for FICO score calculations. But VantageScore weighs their importance differently. 

Aside from FICO and VantageScore models, there are other credit scores out there as well. You may hear them called educational or proprietary scores, as they're usually more for informational purposes, not lending decisions. For example, Experian developed the PLUS score, while Equifax also has its own proprietary score. 

How Can I See My Credit Scores?

Checking your credit scores is a good idea if you plan to borrow money or you just want to know how you're doing credit-wise. Reviewing your credit reports and scores won't ding your credit either since this is considered to be a soft pull. 

If you're interested in checking your credit scores, there are a few options for doing so:

  • Purchasing credit scores from FICO or the credit bureaus

  • Getting your scores from your credit card company

  • Enrolling in a free credit scoring or credit monitoring service

There's nothing wrong with paying for your FICO scores, but it isn't really necessary since there are ways to get your credit scores for free. For example, many credit card issuers now provide one FICO score monthly to customers. You can check your credit score just by logging in to your account online. 

You may also be able to get free credit scores through the credit bureaus. Equifax, for example, offers a free VantageScore and a free Equifax credit report monthly. There's no credit card required to sign up. With Experian Credit Boost, you can get your Experian FICO score for free each month.

Credit monitoring services can also provide you with free credit scores every month. These services track your credit reports and notify you when there are any changes that might affect your score. Some also provide pre-screened offers for credit and/or tips for raising your score. Before signing up, be sure to understand which credit score you're getting for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a FICO score the same as a credit score?

A credit score is a measure of your credit health and how responsibly you manage debt. A FICO score is one type of credit score. FICO scores were created by the Fair Isaac Corporation and are calculated using proprietary models. The information in your credit reports determines your FICO scores. 

Why do I have different FICO scores?

FICO doesn't use a single scoring model to generate scores. There are different variations of FICO scores, including industry-specific ones, such as auto scores and mortgage scores. Lenders can apply any of these models to your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus when checking your credit scores. Since the information in your credit reports may vary, the end result may be different FICO scores. 

Do lenders use FICO scores or other credit scores?

Lenders commonly use FICO scores, though lenders also use VantageScores for credit approval decisions. Mortgage lenders tend to use older versions of FICO scores (i.e., FICO 2, FICO 4, and FICO 5) because they're approved by federal regulators. If you're applying for credit, you can ask the lender which credit scoring model they use.