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Yes, worry about a 30-point discrepancy in your credit scores

Some variation is expected, but big differences merit investigation

By

Speaking of Credit
Speaking of Credit columnist Barry Paperno
Barry Paperno is a freelance writer and credit scoring expert with decades of consumer credit industry experience, serving as consumer affairs manager for FICO (formerly Fair Isaac Corp.) and consumer operations manager for Experian. He writes "Speaking of Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about credit scoring and rebuilding credit, for CreditCards.com. His writings about credit scoring have appeared in The Huffington Post, MSN Money, CBS Money Watch and other consumer finance websites.
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Question

Dear Speaking of Credit,
Could you explain to me why my TransUnion score is 592, but the Equifax score is 562? That is a 30-point difference. – Russell

Answer

Dear Russell,
There are two main reasons why credit scores for the same consumer can vary by more than a few points:

  • Differences in the information on file at the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  • Differences in credit scoring formulas.

Credit bureau reporting differences
To begin getting to the bottom of this 30-point discrepancy between your scores at Equifax and TransUnion you’ll first want to visit AnnualCreditReport.com. There, you can download your latest credit reports from these two credit bureaus. While you’re at it, you might as well get your Experian report. That way you can examine all your credit reports for errors and discrepancies.

When reviewing your reports, look for inconsistencies in how the reports show the following:

  • Late payments or charge-offs.
  • Collections or public record items.
  • Card balance increases and decreases.
  • Newly opened accounts.
  • Inquiries.

Any inconsistencies between the TransUnion and Equifax data could contribute to the score difference you’re seeing. 

But this is only part of the story. 

Credit scoring formula differences
The five major credit score categories have remained unchanged for decades. They are: payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new accounts and types of credit. But there have been changes in the number of points assigned to the various calculations within these categories.

Those formula tweaks are injected into an increasing number of scores. There are more than 50 scoring formulas currently in use among lenders. Why so many scores? 

  • Score-makers develop their formulas independently. FICO, VantageScore and the large lenders that create custom in-house scoring systems all produce their own scores. The formulas are proprietary secrets, so they don’t always work in the same ways.
  • Different versions of scoring models. All scoring models get updated every few years to improve their predictive value. They have names such as FICO 8, FICO 9, VantageScore 2.0, and VantageScore 3.0. Because lenders adopt updates slowly, one bank might check your credit using FICO 8, while the bank across the street might use FICO 9.
  • Industry-specific scores. An auto loan credit score, for example, might give extra weight to auto loan payment history. The FICO Auto and FICO Bankcard Industry Option scores are examples of formulas that give extra scoring weight to credit information about specific types of loans. 

Should a 30-point score difference cause alarm?
With any set of scores, expect about a 20-point difference from one to the next, due to minor reporting (inquiries, card balances, etc.) and formula differences.

Differences of much more than 20 points should cause concern. You may be looking at more-serious reporting or scoring variations, such as those involving late payments, collections or maxed-out cards. If an item of this nature appears on one or two, but not all three, credit bureau reports you could be seeing a larger-than-20-point score difference across the three bureaus.

Can you, and should you, do anything about it?
The decentralized nature of credit reporting will always introduce some differences. Those reporting information to credit bureaus are not required to send information to all three bureaus. Nor are they required to report simultaneously to the bureaus.

For their part, the credit bureaus make updates on their own schedules. They don’t have to update their files so they match up with each other. Fortunately, most major card and loan issuers report to all three bureaus every month, though not necessarily at the same time.

Those types of variations aren’t worth bothering with. Others are.

For example, if you have paid off a big chunk of debt, you want that positive information included on all three bureaus’ reports. If it isn’t, dispute the inaccuracy with the credit bureau that's not showing that. 

If you have a mortgage pending, you may even be able to speed up the dispute process by having your mortgage broker or lender submit a “rapid rescore” request that can update your report in just a few days.

Finally, some discrepancies can work in your favor. For instance, a collection or public record item (judgment, tax lien, bankruptcy) may appear on one or two, but not all three, of your credit reports. Rather than bring it to the attention of the bureau not reporting it, you may want to leave well enough alone. That will result in a higher score at that bureau. Then if you’re lucky, the next time you apply for credit or rent an apartment the creditor or landlord might use that bureau with the higher score.

See related: Learn FICO’s five credit scoring factors

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Published: October 20, 2016


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Updated: 12-03-2016


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