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How to make sure your credit score is a FICO score

By

Credit Score Report
Reporter Jeremy M. Simon
Jeremy M. Simon is a former staff reporter for CreditCards.com who covered credit reporting and scoring issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
Hi, Jeremy. I'm a little confused. I just bought my credit score at annualcreditreport.com, and it said that my score was 880. I thought that 850 was the highest score you could have. What gives? -- Thomas

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Hey Thomas,
Thanks for writing. You aren't the only one who is a little confused by the credit scores provided through AnnualCreditReport.com.

I recently paid for the opportunity to see my credit score on that site, using the same process you probably did: First, I viewed my free credit report, after putting my personal information into an online form. I then went the extra step and provided my credit card information to pay for a TransUnion credit score.

Guess what? On initial inspection, what they showed me didn't make much sense. Although my credit score was 833, TransUnion told me I was just a B grade borrower. While a B isn't lousy, I expected better, considering FICO scores range from 300 to 850.

Your score of 880, Thomas, would've been even more confusing, since it actually breaks past the high end of the FICO scoring system.

However, it turns out we weren't being graded by FICO at all. The scores we purchased are from VantageScore, a competitor of FICO, which ranks borrowers using a different formula and a different scale. While a higher score under both systems means the borrower is more likely to repay lenders (and therefore be approved for loans more often and at lower interest rates), VantageScores range from 501 to 990. With that scale, your 880 score makes perfect sense, as does the B grade for my 830 score.

Making the grade

Here's what my TransUnion credit score and grade looked like when I purchased it from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Jeremy Simon credit score grade

The distinction between a FICO score and a VantageScore is important because when you're looking at a FICO score, you are viewing the same data used by the vast majority of lenders in the United States. According to its most recent research, FICO says that roughly 90 percent of the top 100 consumer lenders in the United States use its score, while VantageScore is used by significantly fewer. 

Unfortunately, AnnualCreditReport.com doesn't make clear what score you are paying for, but more often than not, what you're buying isn't a FICO score. Out of the three credit bureaus selling credit scores on AnnualCreditReport.com, only Equifax offers a FICO-based score. Both Experian and TransUnion sell you a VantageScore.

So, Thomas, if you want to buy a FICO score from AnnualCreditReport.com, make sure the credit score you are buying is from Equifax. Otherwise, you won't be getting what you want. (Remember, though, that you can also get FICO scores from the company's official website -- myFICO.com. There, you can get FICO scores from TransUnion and Equifax, but not Experian. Experian ended its relationship with FICO in February of 2009.) 

See you again next week with more answers to your credit score questions, and please send your questions to the Credit Score Report.

See related: What people are saying about the Credit CARD Act, VantageScore credit score product combines three scores into one, Consumers lose access to major credit score, How to dispute credit report errors

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Published: October 13, 2009


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