There's something you should know about the credit scores that you can get for free: They usually are not the same FICO scores that lenders pull. The free scores are sometimes called "equivalency scores" or "educational scores" (and, derisively, "FAKO" scores). In this article, we'll examine the reasons for the differences between the free scores you can get from websites like CreditKarma, CreditSesame, and WalletHub, as well as from banks and credit card companies, and the credit scores that many lenders use.
- It is possible to get your credit score for free, through websites, banks, and credit card companies.
- Not all free credit scores, however, are the industry-standard FICO score.
- The three top credit bureaus created the VantageScore as an alternative to FICO, but it is not yet as popular.
- Everyone can have multiple credit scores, both at FICO and at VantageScore.
Why Your Credit Scores Can Be Different
The free credit scores are, in fact, real. However, they may only give you a general idea of where you stand in terms of creditworthiness.
To begin with, your FICO scores with each of the three major credit scoring companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—are usually different. That's due in part to the fact that your creditors can choose whether to report to one, two, or all three of the major credit bureaus, or they can choose not to report at all.
In addition, the different credit scoring systems weigh the data in your credit reports somewhat differently, though FICO says that this results in only minor variations at most. Further, a lender might pull your scores from all three credit bureaus, or it might just pull one (most mortgage lenders like to look at all three, FICO says). When you only know your score from a single source, you aren't seeing the whole picture.
Different kinds of lenders may request different versions of your FICO scores. While FICO Score 8 and FICO Score 9 are the most widely used today, there are also more specialized versions for auto lenders, mortgage companies, and credit card issuers.
Lenders can choose to report information on you to any, all, or none of the three major credit bureaus.
Some Lenders Use VantageScore, Not FICO
Not all credit scores are FICO scores. The VantageScore is a newer scoring model created by a collaboration among the three major credit bureaus. Though the VantageScore is not as widely used as the FICO score, it has caught on among free credit score providers.
The latest version, VantageScore 4.0, and its predecessor, VantageScore 3.0, score consumers using a range from 300 to 850, just like a FICO score. (Some earlier VantageScores used a 501 to 990 range.) However, VantageScore assigns different weights to the five factors that determine your credit score in contrast with traditional FICO scores.
VantageScore is also more forgiving to individuals with shorter credit histories. Indeed, the company claims it can generate scores for 37 million people who previously didn't qualify for a FICO score. As the credit bureau Experian explains, individuals need to have at least one credit account that's been open for at least six months to receive a FICO score, while an account that's been open for at least one month, and reported to the credit bureaus, can be sufficient for calculating a VantageScore.
Just as each of the three major credit bureaus issues its own FICO score based on the consumer's information with that bureau, each also issues its own VantageScore. A VantageScore from TransUnion will be the same as a VantageScore from Equifax if both TransUnion and Equifax have identical information on a consumer.
As there are often differences in the information reported to each bureau, however, consumers can still have somewhat different VantageScores, just as they can have different FICO scores.
How VantageScore and FICO Determine Your Score
VantageScore and FICO assign different weights to the factors that determine your credit score.
- Payment history (40%)
- Depth of credit (21%)
- Credit utilization (20%)
- Credit balances (11%)
- Recent credit (5%)
- Available credit (3%)
VantageScore 4.0 adjusts several of those percentages very slightly.
- Payment history (35%)
- Amounts owed (30%)
- Length of credit history (15%)
- New credit (10%)
- Credit mix (10%)
How to Get a Free Vantage Score
VantageScore 4.0 was introduced in 2017, but VantageScore 3.0 remains in wide use. If you get a free credit score from any of the following online providers (not a complete list), it's likely to be a VantageScore 3.0.
How to Get a Free FICO Score
You can obtain a free FICO 8 score directly from FICO. Many credit card issuers also offer free FICO credit scores to some or all of their customers, including (not a complete list):
- Ally Bank (auto loan customers only)
- Bank of America
- Commerce Bank
- First National Bank of Omaha
- Wells Fargo
What Is a Good Credit Score?
What's considered a good credit score depends on the scoring model. According to Experian, a good FICO score is generally 670 to 739, while a good VantageScore is 661 to 780.
How Can You Improve Your Credit Score?
Both FICO and VantageScore give the highest weight to your bill payment history, so making sure to pay your bills on time is a good place to start.
How Can You Get a Free Credit Report?
By law, you're entitled for a free copy of your credit report at least once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. The official website for that purpose is AnnualCreditReport.com.
The Bottom Line
With any free credit score, it's important to understand the limitations of what you're getting—in particular that the score you see might not be the same one a lender or other creditor will use when deciding whether to take you on as a customer. Generally speaking, the best type of free credit score to get is an actual FICO score because that's the score the vast majority of lenders use.