Which Credit Scores Lenders Most Look At

How many different credit scores do you have, and what is the most important credit score when you apply for a loan or other type of credit? There are three major consumer credit bureaus whose data is used to generate credit scores. However, because there are many different credit scoring models, you may have dozens of credit scores. Which credit score is most important for a particular lender will vary depending on the type of credit for which you’re applying. Here’s what you should know about your credit scores.

How Many Credit Scores Are There?

The three major credit bureausExperian, Equifax, and TransUnion—maintain consumer credit reports based on information reported by lenders, credit card issuers, and other creditors and gathered from public information sources. 

Your credit report is a history of how you have used credit. It shows things like how much debt you have, how many credit accounts you have, whether you pay your bills on time, and whether you have any past-due accounts or have ever declared bankruptcy. 

Based on the information in your credit report, different credit scoring models are used to generate credit scores. A credit scoring model is a software that performs a statistical analysis of your credit report information and generates a three-digit score reflecting your creditworthiness. 

Because of the three credit reporting agencies, it’s often mistakenly believed that people have three credit scores. In reality, you may have dozens. Here are your most important credit scores to know about. 

FICO Score

The FICO Score, developed by Fair Isaac Corporation in 1989, is by far the most widely used credit score. However, there are many different FICO Score versions. That’s because the company regularly updates its credit scoring models to improve their accuracy and relevance. 

Your “base” FICO Score, which calculates your overall creditworthiness, can range from 300 to 850 points and is most commonly calculated using FICO Score 8. This version of the FICO credit scoring model is several years old (there is also a FICO Score 9, and FICO Score 10 and 10 T were introduced last year). Because adopting newer credit score models is a major undertaking for lenders, requiring updates to their other software and systems, most lenders haven’t yet made the switch and are still using FICO Score 8. 

VantageScore 

VantageScore has four credit scoring models. The first, VantageScore 1.0, was introduced in 2006; the most recent, VantageScore 4.0, was released in 2017. Like FICO Scores, VantageScores range from 300 to 850 points. The VantageScore credit models calculate your creditworthiness based on the same general factors as FICO Scores, but there are a few differences. 

For example, FICO has different versions of each of its credit scoring models for each of the three credit bureaus, while VantageScore has just one version of each credit scoring model that can be used with data from Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. FICO also requires you to have at least one account at least six months old before generating a credit score for you; VantageScore can generate a score if you have one account, even if it’s less than six months old.

Industry-Specific Credit Scores

In addition to the base FICO Scores and VantageScores, there are also industry-specific FICO Scores and VantageScores developed to help lenders make decisions about specific types of credit products, such as auto loans, mortgages, and credit cards. As with the base, FICO Score, and VantageScore, new versions of these credit models are released on a regular basis. 

If you’re applying for an auto loan, the lender will probably check your FICO Auto Score 8; if you’re applying for a credit card, the credit card company will likely check your FICO Bankcard Score 8. Mortgage lenders typically use FICO Score 2, 4, or 5. There are also credit-based insurance scores, which insurance companies use to assess your risk profile and the likelihood that you will file an insurance claim. 

In addition to FICO Scores and VantageScores, there are some lesser-known credit scores that are used primarily for education, not in credit decisions. 

What are the Credit Score Ranges for Each Score?

Your credit scores can vary depending on various factors, including what credit scoring model is used, which credit bureau your data comes from, and when your credit report is pulled. Instead of obsessing over a specific credit score number, it’s best to focus on score ranges. Aim for a credit score in the “good” or better range, as shown in the charts below. 

FICO Score Credit Score Ranges

  • 800-850: Exceptional
  • 740-799: Very good
  • 670-739: Good
  • 580 to 669: Fair
  • 300-579: Very poor  

VantageScore Credit Score Ranges

  • 750-850: Super prime or excellent
  • 700-749: Good
  • 650-699: Fair
  • 550-649: Poor
  • 300-549: Very poor  

What Affects Your Credit Score?

The FICO Score and VantageScore credit models take the same general factors into account when calculating your credit score, although they weigh them slightly differently.

  • Payment history: Paying your bills on time is the single biggest factor in your credit score. In the FICO Score model, this comprises up to 35% of your credit score. 
  • Credit utilization ratio: The amount of credit you use as a percentage of your available credit is another important factor. To maintain a good credit score, you shouldn’t use more than 30% of your credit limits. If you have a credit card with a limit of $3,000, that means your maximum balance should be $1,000. Credit utilization accounts for 30% of your FICO Score.
  • Length of credit history: The longer you’ve had credit, the more time you’ve had to prove you can make your payments on time. The length of your credit history accounts for 15% of your FICO Score.  
  • Credit mix: This refers to the different types of credit you have. A mix of both installment credit (such as a student loan or auto loan) and revolving credit (such as credit card or line of credit) will help boost your FICO Score; this accounts for 10% of the FICO Score. 
  • Credit applications: Every time you apply for credit, the lender checks your credit report; this process is known as a hard inquiry. Because a hard credit inquiry typically lowers your credit score slightly for a few months, you should avoid applying for too much credit in a short time. Having a lot of hard inquiries accounts for 10% of your FICO Score. 

Derogatory information on your credit report, such as late payments or accounts in collections, will affect your credit score negatively. 

Is Your FICO Score the Most Important Score?

Some 90% of lenders use the FICO Score when making credit decisions, making this the most important credit score to monitor. Although there are dozens of credit score variations, you don’t need to worry about checking every single one of them. Since every type of credit score takes the same basic information into account, your scores shouldn’t vary dramatically from one credit score version or credit bureau to another. 

Most lenders use a FICO Score based on data from just one of the three credit bureaus. However, mortgage lenders typically use data from all three: a FICO® Score 2 based on Experian data, a FICO® Score 5 based on Equifax data, and a FICO® Score 4 based on TransUnion data. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which credit report is most important? 

There’s no way to know which credit bureau’s data a particular lender will use in making a credit decision. Since each credit bureau’s credit report may have slightly different information, it’s important to regularly check your credit reports with all three credit bureaus. 

Which credit score is most used by lenders?

Most lenders use the FICO Score 8 when making lending decisions. 

What is a good FICO score?

A FICO Score of 670 to 739 is considered good; a score of 740 to 799 is very good, and a score of 800 or more is exceptional. 

What does FICO Score 9 mean?

The FICO Score 9 is a newer credit scoring model that has a few key differences from previous FICO Score models. In FICO Score 9, unpaid medical collections have less impact on your credit report than other types of debt. In addition, accounts in collections that you have paid off will no longer have a negative effect on your credit report. Finally, the FICO Score 9 includes rental history, as long as landlords report it to a credit bureau. 

Keep an Eye on Your Credit Score 

You can keep tabs on your credit report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency once every 12 months (during the pandemic, you can get it once a week). In addition to monitoring your credit report, make it a habit to check your credit score before applying for any credit or at least once a year. 

Your credit score can affect your ability to get loans and credit cards, the interest rates you’ll pay, and the credit limits you’ll enjoy. A good credit score can even make it easier to get car insurance, a job, or an apartment. Keep your credit score healthy, and you’ll make your life much easier. 

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