FICO Score vs. Credit Score: What’s the Difference?

A credit score is seen on a cell phone using Credit Sesame.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
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What’s your credit score?

It’s important financial information to have. But did you know there are actually multiple answers and no single way of calculating a credit score?

A credit score is just a way of distilling your entire credit history into a number that, at a glance, allows lenders to determine the risk they’re taking on by granting you a loan.

The two most common ways of estimating it are the FICO Score and the VantageScore. In this article, we’ll detail the differences between the two, and how those variables could impact your pursuit of good credit.

What is a Credit Score?

The general term ‘credit score’ encompasses the many different models for calculating the three-digit number, ranging from 300 to 850, that defines your creditworthiness. If you have a good credit score, not only are you more likely to be approved for new credit accounts with higher credit limits, you can qualify for better interest rates.

Details of your debt — like your payment history, total debt load, unused credit and the different kinds of credit you’ve opened — are reported to the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.

When you apply for a new loan or credit card, the lender can query one of the bureaus to get a report on that data. Finally, that data is run through an algorithm to determine your score.

You should know, however, that the three bureaus gather and store your data differently, so your credit report from each bureau could be different, resulting in a different overall score.

The Credit Scoring Models

The FICO Score and VantageScore models are the most common provided to lenders and consumers, and it’s important to note that which one is checked depends on the financial institution making the query.

FICO Score

Typically ranging from 300 (very poor credit) to 850 (exceptional credit), the FICO model is the most well-known credit score and is used by over 90% of the top lenders in the country.

The FICO model was devised by the Fair Isaac Corporation, and in 1995 the two biggest secondary mortgage companies in the U.S., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, began to use the model to determine if loan applicants were a credit risk.

FROM THE CREDIT FORUM

There are more than a dozen versions of the FICO score. FICO8, which was introduced in 2009, is the broadest and most widely used by lenders. The other versions differ slightly based on what they’re used for.

FICO Auto Score is specifically for auto loans, a FICO Bankcard Score is used on credit card applications, and there’s an updated version of the general purpose FICO score released in 2019, called FICO9, though most creditors are still using FICO8.

The FICO8 Score Ranges

  • 350-579: Very Poor Credit
  • 580-669: Fair Credit
  • 670-739: Good Credit
  • 740-799: Very Good Credit
  • 800-850: Exceptional Credit

FICO closely guards how it calculates scores, but knowing the weight given to each component can help consumers improve their scores.

The Components of a FICO8 Score

  • Payment history (35%)
  • Amounts owed (30%)
  • Length of credit history (15%)
  • New credit (10%)
  • Credit mix (10%)

How to Get Your FICO Score

You have several options here. The first is to check your credit card statement, as some issuers (Bank of America, Discover and Citibank, for example) offer their customers their FICO Scores every month for free. You can also get a free FICO Score from Experian at freecreditscore.com.

Remember, though, that just because your Experian FICO Score says one thing doesn’t mean it will be the same at the other two bureaus.

VantageScore

This is the other major credit scoring model, created by the credit bureaus themselves in 2006 as an alternative to FICO. Like FICO, Vantage ranges from 300 (poor credit) to 850 (excellent credit) and (like FICO!) there are multiple versions. Right now, the standard is VantageScore 3.0, and it’s used by several lenders, including credit card issuers, across the country.

The biggest difference between the two is that with VantageScore, even if you have a very short credit history (as short as one month), you can get a score and have better access to credit. With FICO, you need six months of data to be visible to their algorithm.

There are also slight differences in the ranges of scores.

The VantageScore 3.0 Ranges

  • 350-630: Poor Credit
  • 630-690: Fair Credit
  • 690-720: Good Credit
  • 720-850: Excellent Credit

And, just like FICO8, weighted estimates signal how important certain factors are to calculating the VantageScore 3.0

The Components of VantageScore 3.0

  • Payment history (40%)
  • Depth of credit (21%)
  • Utilization (20%)
  • Balances (11%)
  • Recent credit (5%)
  • Available credit (3%)

As you can see, payment history is the most important factor in both models, so if there’s one thing you should prioritize it’s to be sure you make payments on time.

How to Get Your VantageScore

Just like FICO (are you beginning to see a trend?) there are several ways of going about this.

The first is through your financial institution. Many offer your score for free each month, including Chase Bank, Capital One or OneMain Financial (provided by TransUnion), and U.S. Bank (provided by Experian).

If you’d rather go the no-strings-attached route, a good option is Credit Sesame, a monitoring and financial management tool that offers your VantageScore 3.0 for free as provided by TransUnion.

While many people’s VantageScore and FICO scores are similar, that’s not always the case. In fact, they can vary by nearly a hundred points all because of the differences in the models.

But long as you keep up with at least one of the major scoring models, you should know roughly where you stand across the board.

Curtis Westman is a freelance writer whose strategy is to have multiple screens in his home reporting dozens of different versions of his credit score at all times…but who definitely doesn’t recommend it.