Keeping a healthy credit score is essential in order to have access to financing when you need it the most, such as when buying a home or a car. Finding out your current credit score provides you a good idea of how healthy your credit management habits are. However, just knowing that your score is 550, for example, is not enough to get a full picture.

More Than One Credit Score

Most people are familiar with the FICO score, which was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation to assess the credit risk of an applicant. Ranging from 300 to 850, the FICO score is calculated using five criteria: payment history (35% weighting), total amount owed to creditors (30% weighting), length of credit history (15% weighting), new credit (10% weighting) and credit mix (10% weighting).

Using the FICO score scale, a credit score of 550 is fair, but it is not the lowest possible. Using other score scales sets a different stage for a 550 score.

Equifax

Using its proprietary credit score model, Equifax, Inc. developed the Equifax Credit Score. You can obtain a free credit report from Equifax, but you have to pay to obtain your Equifax Credit score. Unlike the FICO score, the Equifax Credit Score ranges from 280 to 850. A credit score of 550 would look a bit better under this scale.

Experian

Experian, also one of the three national credit bureaus, offers a FICO credit score and a VantageScore. The FICO score from Experian ranges from 300 to 850, with average scores falling between 670 and 680. The current median FICO score calculated by Experian is 710.

In the past, Experian used to issue a PLUS score, which ranged from 330 to 830.

TransUnion

Before October 2015, TransUnion issued its TransRisk credit score, ranging from 300 to 850. On Oct. 8, 2015, TransUnion released CreditVision Link, which combines both trended credit bureau data and alternative data sources and ranges from 300 to 850.

According to TransUnion, its new credit score has scored more than 90% of applicants who otherwise would be returned as no-hit or thin-file by traditional models.

VantageScore

Developed by the three credit bureaus, the VantageScore has gone through three iterations. Versions 1.0 and 2.0 ranged from 501 to 990, making that sample credit score of 550 look terrible.

However, the VantageScore Version 3.0 ranges from 300 to 850, like the FICO score, making a score of 550 seem better.

Room for Greater Cooperation Among Credit Bureaus

Since the U.S. Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the three credit bureaus have worked towards greater uniformity in their operations, including how their credit scores are calculated.

The VantageScore is a step toward greater cooperation. Between 2014 and 2015, over 6 billion Vantage credit scores were used in lending decisions, up from nearly 3 billion during the period from 2013 to 2014, according to VantageScore Solutions. However, according to Fair Isaac Corporation, 90 of the top 100 largest U.S. financial institutions still use FICO scores to make their decisions regarding consumer credit.

As you can see from the different ranges of credit scores available to customers, there is still room for better coordination among the three credit bureaus.

The Bottom Line

Knowing your credit score is essential in order to find out how likely a creditor is to approve your loan application. Take notice of type of what credit score you obtain, because they are not all equal. To improve your chances of getting the financing that you need, ask your lender about the credit score that will be used to evaluate your application.

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