If you've ever applied for a credit card, mortgage, or car loan, you probably know that you have a FICO score. What you may not realize is that you likely have more than one of them—possibly quite a few. That's because lenders use different versions of FICO scores depending on the type of credit you're seeking and other issues. Here's a quick guide to the various FICO scores and which lenders use which ones.
- FICO credit scores are used by most lenders to evaluate a borrower's creditworthiness.
- The FICO scoring methodology has been updated over the years, and lenders have multiple versions to choose from.
- Industry-specific FICO scores are also available for different types of credit, such as mortgages, car loans, and credit cards.
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What Are FICO Scores?
FICO scores are credit scores that were developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation (now called FICO). Used by more than 90% of major lenders, according to the company, the scores are designed to help assess a borrower's creditworthiness. FICO considers five factors when calculating a score:
- Payment History (35%)
- Amounts Owed (30%)
- Length of Credit History (15%)
- New Credit (10%)
- Credit Mix (10%)
Why Are There Different FICO Scores?
When you apply for credit, whether it's your first credit card or a second mortgage, lenders need to decide whether you're worth the risk. To do this they check your credit scores and/or get credit reports on you from one or more of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
As mentioned, there are multiple versions of FICO scores, reflecting the evolution of the credit market and consumer behavior since the scores first became a tool for lenders back in 1989.
FICO has rolled out 10 versions of its "base" score over the years, and most of them are still in use by lenders to some extent. Lenders can currently choose from the following base versions:
- FICO 2
- FICO 3
- FICO 4
- FICO 5
- FICO 8
- FICO 9
- FICO 10 and 10T
FICO 8 remains the most widely used score, but a number of lenders have switched to FICO 9, which is more forgiving of unpaid medical bills. The FICO 10 Suite, which lenders could access starting in 2020, was introduced to add more flexibility and predictability to the scoring model, FICO says.
Depending on the type of credit involved, lenders may also decide to use one of the various industry-specific scores that FICO has developed. While the base FICO scores look at how likely borrowers are to repay debt in general, these scores take into account payment history and risk behaviors that might be more relevant to that specific market. For example, if a borrower has missed payments on a car loan in the past, that could have an impact on their FICO Auto Score.
Another difference between base FICO versions and industry-specific ones is the range of scores you can get. FICO scores on the base versions can fall anywhere between 300 and 850, with anything above 670 generally considered "good" credit. Meanwhile, industry-specific scores, such as the FICO Bankcard Score for credit cards and the Auto Score for car loans, have a wider range of 250 to 900.
Which Lenders Use Which FICO Scores?
With the exception of the mortgage market, which is heavily regulated, lenders can generally choose which FICO score they use when running a credit check. However, they tend to use certain versions depending on the kind of credit for which you're applying. Here's a look at the most common FICO scores for each type of credit.
When you're taking out a mortgage, there's a good chance the loan will end up being bought by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. These massive government-backed mortgage companies dictate which FICO scores home lenders can use. Here are the FICO scores offered by the three major credit bureaus for that purpose, along with the alternative names the bureaus use to advertise them:
- Equifax: FICO Score 5 (Equifax Beacon 5.0)
- Experian: FICO Score 2 (Experian/Fair Isaac Risk Model V2)
- TransUnion: FICO Score 4 (TransUnion FICO Risk Score 04)
Though FICO has created several auto-specific scores, the base FICO 8 and 9 scores are still widely used in car lending. Here are the various FICO auto scores available, as well as which ones credit bureaus tend to use:
- FICO Auto Score 2 (Experian)
- FICO Auto Score 5 (Equifax)
- FICO Auto Score 4 (TransUnion)
- FICO Auto Score 8 (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion)
- FICO Auto Score 9
Just as it has for auto loans, FICO has developed a series of scores attuned to the concerns of credit card issuers. FICO bankcard scores are more sensitive to how a borrower has managed their credit cards in the past. Here are the available FICO bankcard scores and the credit bureaus that use them:
- FICO Bankcard Score 2 (Experian)
- FICO Bankcard Score 4 (TransUnion)
- FICO Bankcard Score 5 (Equifax)
- FICO Bankcard Score 8 (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion)
- FICO Bankcard Score 9
What Is an Adverse Action Notice?
By law, a lender who turns you down for credit must explain why, in what's known as an adverse action notice. Typically that will come in the form of a letter. If your credit score was involved in the decision, the lender must provide the score and the date it was created.
What Is a VantageScore?
VantageScore is a competitor to FICO created by the three major credit bureaus. It has its own scoring system but also expresses scores in a range of 300 to 850. Like FICO scores, VantageScores come in multiple versions. If you request a credit score from a free website or a financial institution, it will often be a VantageScore.
Does Checking Your Credit Score Hurt Your Credit?
No, checking your credit score has no effect on your credit.
The Bottom Line
Unless you're turned down for credit and receive an adverse action notice, you may never know which FICO score a lender has chosen when considering your credit application. Still, regardless of what methodology is applied, the essentials for earning a good score still apply:
- Make your monthly payments on time
- Don't open more credit accounts than you need
- Keep debt balances down
You can check your basic FICO 8 credit score free of charge through FICO. You may be also be able to access your scores for free from your bank or credit card company or an independent website.