- Credit scores measure your financial health.
- Your credit score can vary for a number of reasons.
- Understanding scoring models can help you improve your credit.
Checking your credit score can be a great way to gauge your financial health. But if you're seeing a range of numbers, you might be scratching your head and asking this question:
Why is my credit score different on different sites?
Credit scores are fluid. They can change over time and what you see on one site might not be reflected on another.
If you're trying to make sense of why you have different credit scores, the longer answer is a bit more complicated. Keep reading to learn why your credit scores are different on different sites--and how to make sense of what all the numbers mean.
Top 3 reasons credit scores are different
There's no single reason why you might have different credit scores. Instead, it can be chalked up to a combination of factors. Here are three distinct reasons why you might get mixed credit scoring results.
Different credit score models - FICO vs. VantageScore
Credit scores are calculated using different models. Those models look at a combination of factors to determine where you fall on the credit score range.
FICO is the most widely used credit scoring model, with scores ranging from 300 to 850. This model was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation and calculates credit scores based on:
Payment history - 35% of your score.
Debts and credit utilization - 30% of your score.
Credit age - 15% of your score.
Credit mix - 10% of your score.
Credit inquiries - 10% of your score.
But FICO scores are not alone. Some lenders also use VantageScores to gauge creditworthiness.
VantageScores were developed by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. VantageScores also range from 300 to 850 but they break down like this:
Payment history - 40% of your score.
Depth of credit - 21% of your score.
Credit utilization - 20% of your score.
Balances - 11% of your score.
Recent credit - 5% of your score.
Available credit - 3% of your score.
That's for VantageScore 3.0. The newer VantageScore 4.0 model gives slightly more weight to recent credit and slightly less weight to available credit.
Since each model is calculated differently, it's only natural that you might end up with different credit score results. You may also see variation in your credit scores depending on what's being reported to each credit bureau. If you have a car loan and your lender only reports to Equifax but not Experian or TransUnion, it can skew your credit score results.
Pro tip: Paying on time is the best way to improve or maintain your credit score.
Different credit scores for different products
As mentioned, FICO is the most widely-used credit scoring model. But that doesn't mean you have just one FICO score.
In fact, there are multiple versions of FICO that generate different scores. For instance, there are product-based FICO scores for things like:
You can have one (or in some cases, more than one) of each of these credit scores with each credit bureau. There are also newer generation FICO scores that are released periodically. Altogether, it's possible to have more than three dozen different FICO credit scores.
VantageScore also updates its scoring model. VantageScore 3.0 is the most well-known model but it also competes with earlier versions, as well as the VantageScore 4.0 model.
Pro tip: If you're planning to apply for a loan, getting preapproved could give you an idea of what terms the lender will offer.
Credit scores vary over time
Credit scores are snapshots that reflect your payments and account balances at a moment in time. They update at least monthly but may change much more often if you use a variety of financial products. It depends on how often your creditors report to credit bureaus and what days they report.
Suppose you charge $5,000 to one of your credit cards in October. Your credit score might drop when that happens because your credit utilization rises.
Now, assume you pay the balance off in full. Your credit scores will probably improve once that information is reported.
That type of seesaw effect can be a little frustrating if you're trying to pin down your credit scores because you're planning to apply for a loan. But it's a good reminder that the way you manage credit and debt can influence changes to your score in the short and long term.
Pro tip: Checking your own credit scores won't affect your credit history.
Which credit score matters most?
For lending purposes, the credit score that matters most is the one the lender uses to make loan decisions. Generally speaking, more lenders rely on FICO scores than VantageScores for credit approval.
When you check your own credit, you’re likely to see an “educational” credit score that isn’t exactly what lenders see. In most cases, this won’t matter. Educational credit scores help consumers track their financial progress, catch errors and head off fraud.
There are many sources of credit scores, from credit monitoring sites to credit card issuers (check your statement) to consumer education sites, and from the credit reporting agencies themselves. Make sure that you understand which scores you’re getting and the cost of receiving them.
How can you check your credit score?
There are different ways to check your credit score online. You can purchase scores from FICO or VantageScore but you might be able to get them for free. Services like Experian Credit Boost provide free FICO scores. Many credit card companies also furnish free credit score tracking as a cardmember benefit.
What is a good credit score?
A good credit score generally starts in the mid-to-high 600s range. What a lender considers to be a good credit score may vary, as some lenders will only accept borrowers with a score of 700 or better while others might approve you with a score below 650.
How often should you check your credit score?
How often you check your credit score depends on why you're checking it. If you're trying to raise your score so that you can get approved for a mortgage or another loan, then you might want to check it at least monthly. On the other hand, you might only check your scores quarterly if you don't plan on applying for credit any time soon.