FICO score vs. credit score: What's the difference?

Protect your credit by knowing all of your scores. (iStock)

You probably have heard of a FICO score and maybe you even know your number. What you may not realize, however, is that it’s just one credit score you’ve been assigned. While “FICO” and “credit score” sound like interchangeable terms, there is a difference. It can be a good idea to know about all of your scores before applying for credit, especially if your credit history isn’t perfect.

Continue Reading Below

Key differences between a FICO score and credit score

FICO is short for Fair Isaac Corporation, the first company to offer a credit-risk score. It’s the most widely used type. FICO uses a formula to measure and assign your creditworthiness. In order of importance, it’s based on these factors:

  • Payment history
  • Outstanding balances
  • Age of credit
  • New credit
  • Credit mix

Using these criteria, credit users are assigned a number in the FICO score range between 300 and 850, with a higher score indicating better credit. FICO also has a variety of scores based on loan types, such as a FICO Mortgage score, FICO Auto Score and more. It’s possible to have dozens of different types of different FICO scores, each with a different number.

FICO MADE NEW CREDIT SCORE CHANGES — HERE'S HOW TO AVOID LOWERING YOURS

In addition, the FICO credit score changes in 2020 with the UltraFICO score. This new score is good news for people who are just starting to build a credit history or those who are looking to repair their credit. It is based on the same number scale but also uses deposit account activity to calculate a score.

Another type of credit score is your VantageScore, which was created in 2006 by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. A VantageScore uses the same range, but it is generated with just one month of credit history, making it better for new credit users. VantageScore also uses a different formula to calculate a person’s score. In order of importance, it’s based on:

  • Credit usage, balance, and available credit
  • Credit mix
  • Payment history
  • Age of credit
  • New credit

What are FICO or credit scores used for?

If you apply for financing, such as a mortgage, auto or personal loan, lenders look at your credit score to determine your credit-worthiness and assess their risk. While the range is the same, FICO and VantageScore have different categories.

FICO credit scores fall into these five tiers:

  • Exceptional: 800 and above
  • Very good: 740 to 799
  • Good: 670 to 739
  • Fair: 580 to 669
  • Poor: Below 580

VantageScore levels fall into these four tiers:

  • Superprime: 781-850
  • Prime: 661-780
  • Near prime: 601-660
  • Subprime: 300-600

While FICO claims that it’s used by 90 percent of top lenders in making loan decisions, VantageScore says their usage is growing. A recent study by VantageScore claimed that between July 2018 and June 2019 more than 2,500 lenders used 12.3 billion of its credit scores -- a 20 percent increase in usage.

Many credit card issuers provide free access to your FICO score on your statement or through their customer website. Several banks, including JP Morgan Chase and Capital One, offer free access to your VantageScore via their online banking.

HOW TO CHECK YOUR CREDIT SCORE FOR FREE WITHOUT PENALTY

Your credit score is based on your credit report, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three credit bureaus to provide you with a free copy every year. It’s important to periodically check your credit report because one in five consumer reports contains a mistake that could lower your score and impact your ability to obtain financing. If you find an error, you can dispute it with the credit-reporting agency.

If your credit score is low, you can take steps to improve it. For example, pay down debt to improve your credit usage information. Be diligent about paying your bills on time. Ask for a higher credit limit to create higher limits, and refrain from getting any new types of credit that would create a hard inquiry on your credit report. You can also create a better credit mix by having a combination of revolving and installment loans.

By knowing and understanding your different scores, you can take control of them. This can give you confidence when it comes to borrowing money in your future.