If you recently applied for a new credit card or loan from a major bank or credit union, there’s a good chance the lender viewed your FICO score or VantageScore before approving you. Here’s how they differ and what factors affect each score.
You may have also seen free educational versions of one or more of your three-digit credit scores through lenders or other companies. More than six years after Discover became the first lender to offer free FICO scores, most big credit card issuers offer some kind of free score to customers.
Some lenders, such as Discover and Capital One, are even more generous, offering free scores to anyone willing to supply their information. Discover, for example, offers a free educational FICO score to the general public, while Capital One offers a free VantageScore.
But what are FICO scores and VantageScores and why are they different from one another when you view them?
According to an annual survey by VantageScore and Consumer Federation of America, many people aren’t sure what kinds of information even goes into their credit scores, let alone what sets their different scores apart.
Here’s a closer look at the two best-known, most widely used consumer scoring companies, how lenders use them and what makes each score unique.
See related: Which credit scores do mortgage lenders use?
How VantageScores and FICO scores are used by lenders
For nearly three decades now, consumer risk scores have played an important role in lending. They not only help lenders efficiently size up new borrowers, they also give other interested parties, such as landlords or cellphone companies, a window into your credit health.
Many lenders use third-party credit scores, such as FICO scores and VantageScores, for soft credit checks before you’ve even submitted an application. A lender will then use these scores to help figure out who to target with a credit offer or what terms to include in a brochure.
Most lenders also use third-party credit scores to help assess an applicant’s creditworthiness and determine a borrower’s terms.
For example, a lender may use a score purchased from VantageScore or FICO in conjunction with their own internal scoring models that take into account additional financial information that you included in your application, such as your income and housing payment.
(Contrary to some persistent credit myths, your income is not shown on your traditional credit reports, nor is it included in your FICO score or VantageScore.)
Which credit score is your lender looking at?
It varies by lender. And unless your application is rejected, a lender probably isn’t going to tell you whether it used a FICO score or a VantageScore to assess your application.
There’s a good chance, though, that your lender is likely using some version of a FICO score, since FICO continues to be the most widely used credit score. According to FICO, nearly all of the country’s largest financial institutions use FICO scores in some capacity.
However, VantageScore is growing in popularity, particularly among credit card lenders. According to a 2019 market study commissioned by VantageScore, 60% of financial institutions used VantageScore in some capacity between 2018 and 2019, including 34% of credit card issuers.
VantageScore could become more popular over time as lenders become more familiar with it. FICO is much older than VantageScore and has been used by lenders for decades. Parent company Fair Isaac Corporation debuted its first-ever FICO score in 1981 and began widely selling the score to lenders in 1989.
VantageScore, on the other hand, wasn’t introduced until 2006, 17 years after lenders started using FICO. According to VantageScore, the big three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, jointly developed the alternative credit score in the early 2000s in order to accommodate changes in the consumer lending market and score a larger number of people.
VantageScore’s emphasis on scoring more people has led to key differences in the way the score is calculated, including how soon a borrower can get a score in the first place.
The FICO score requires at least six months of credit history for a consumer to be scored. VantageScore, by contrast, only requires one month of credit history.
What influences your FICO score and VantageScore?
It depends on the score. Technically, there are many different types of VantageScores and FICO scores, including educational credit scores that are intended specifically for consumers who want to get a quick read of their credit health and lender-only scores that consumers can’t see.
To make things even more confusing, FICO and VantageScore are constantly revising the credit score models they sell and continue to release new versions. However, they both still sell older models to lenders who are not yet ready to upgrade. As a result, there are dozens of different versions of FICO scores and VantageScores in circulation – and the scores don’t all use the same information either.
FICO XD, for example, uses alternative data that is partially sourced from the lesser-known consumer reporting agency LexisNexis.
FICO’s classic credit score, on the other hand (which is what most lenders use) relies solely on information that appears in your traditional credit reports, such as your loan payments and accounts.
Similarly, VantageScore is calculated using credit report information obtained from all three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
The classic components of a FICO score or VantageScore
FICO and VantageScore each have their own internal methods for pulling your credit report information and crunching a score. But, in general, the best-known, most widely used versions of the two credit scores take into account nearly identical information.
For example, you can typically expect that both your classic FICO score and your VantageScore will consider:
- Your payment history
- The total amount of debt you owe, compared to your available credit
- The mix of credit types that appear in your reports (such as credit cards, installment loans and mortgages)
- The amount of new credit accounts you’ve opened
- The average age of your credit accounts and the age of your oldest account
The most recent versions of your FICO score and your VantageScore also use the same scoring range of 300 to 850, making it simpler to compare them. (Older versions of VantageScore, by contrast, ranged from 501 to 990.)
But despite relying on similar information, FICO and VantageScore treat the information they pull from your reports quite differently. As a result, your FICO score could look very different from your VantageScore, depending on the mathematical formulas used to calculate them.
For example, here’s how different parts of your credit history stack up, depending on the type of credit score a lender uses.
|Payment history||35% of your score||Moderately influential|
|Amounts owed||30% of your score||Extremely influential (including total credit usage, balance and available credit)|
|Length of credit history||15% of your score||Less influential (including age of credit history)|
|Credit mix||10% of your score||Highly influential (including credit mix and experience)|
|New credit||10% of your score||Less influential|
Credit score versions matter
Making things even trickier, newer versions of your FICO or VantageScore may also look dramatically different from older versions of the same score due to revisions in the way the scores are calculated. For example, a newer version of your credit score may treat a recent late payment much more negatively than an older version.
As a result, the parts of your credit history that count most toward the success of your application will not only depend on the type of credit score that a lender uses. It may also depend on the version of that score your lender is using.
For example, VantageScore’s newest credit score model, VantageScore 4.0, separates itself from FICO by placing significantly more weight on your total credit usage and your debt-to-credit-ratio than on your payment history. But VantageScore 3.0 – which is still in wide circulation – places more weight on your overall payment history than on any other component of your score.
A number of lenders, including Chase and Capital One, still use VantageScore 3.0, at least when it comes to the educational scores they show consumers. As a result, the free VantageScore you view through one lender may be higher or lower than the newer version that a different lender uses.
Similarly, FICO 9, which was released in 2014, differs from every other FICO score by ignoring collection accounts that you’ve paid off and by giving less weight to medical collection accounts. Unlike older FICO score versions, it also considers rent payments. FICO 10, which was released in 2020, is the first FICO scoring model to incorporate trended data.
FICO Score 8 differs from earlier FICO scores by paying more attention to maxed out credit cards and by placing less emphasis on one-time late payments.
VantageScore has made similar changes to its most recent credit scores, typically before FICO has. For example, both VantageScore 3.0 and Vantage 4.0 also ignore paid collection accounts altogether. In addition, VantageScore 4.0 gives less weight to medical collections and it ignores new collection accounts that are younger than six months.
Unlike FICO, VantageScore has also been considering rent payments, when available, since 2006.
Although the term “credit score” is often used interchangeably, no matter what credit score version is used, there’s no such thing as a single FICO score or VantageScore. The truth is you have many different credit scores – including from the same scoring company.
But despite the differences between scores, the basic components of a good credit score remain the same: pay your bills on time, limit your credit usage, don’t close your oldest revolving account and don’t go wild applying for a whole bunch of credit at one time.
If you follow those basic rules of thumb, you should be able to build a set of FICO scores and VantageScores that you’re proud to show off to any lender.