While minor credit score differences are inevitable, significant differences among the three major credit bureaus are cause for concern. Understanding why credit scores are different can help you determine when something’s awry and you need to take action.
Your credit score is a three-digit number that gives lenders a snapshot of your creditworthiness. Generally, it’s the first thing lenders check to determine whether to approve you for loans, credit cards and other credit products.
The three major credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – create credit scores based on their proprietary credit scoring algorithms. These agencies weigh the same factors: payment history, credit utilization ratio, length of credit history, new inquiries and credit mix.
Still, don’t be surprised if you discover your credit score differs among the major credit bureaus. Here’s why:
What is a credit score discrepancy?
A credit score discrepancy is a difference in your credit score from one credit bureau to another. Most of the time, scoring differences are not unusual because there are differences in the information on file at the credit bureaus. On top of that, these credit reporting agencies use different scoring models to produce credit scores.
FICO is a long-established scoring model used by 90% of the top lenders in the United States. Since FICO generates three scores — one for each agency — you likely have three different FICO scores.
VantageScore is another widely-used scoring model created in a joint effort of the three major credit bureaus. As such, you only have the VantageScore number, which will most likely be different from your FICO credit score.
Why do credit bureaus report differently?
There are some typical reasons why the major credit bureaus create different credit scores:
1. Credit bureaus have different information
Each bureau creates credit scores using the data they have on file. If the data is different, it stands to reason your credit score will also be different.
Why do the bureaus hold different information for the consumers in their database? One reason is that some creditors don’t report information to all three major credit agencies. For example, your credit card company may report to only one credit bureau. If you’ve been making regular on-time payments, it won’t impact your credit scores from the agencies it doesn’t report to.
2. Score models work differently
Another reason that credit scores vary is because scoring models weigh scoring factors differently. FICO emphasizes your current credit balances, while VantageScore focuses more heavily on the length of your credit history and credit mix.
3. Hard inquiries from one bureau
When you apply for a loan or credit card, the creditor usually pulls one of your credit reports to look at your payment history and how well you manage credit. These hard inquiries can cause a temporary dip in your credit scores. The creditor or lender will often pull a credit report from only one agency. Consequently, only the credit report for that bureau will list the hard inquiry, leading to a difference in your credit score.
4. Bureaus create scores at different times
Whether you, a lender or another company requests your credit score, the score represents a snapshot of your credit history at that exact moment. Remember, your scoring data typically changes each month since the companies and creditors you work with typically update their information monthly.
What are the 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 you worry about a score difference?
Each credit bureau uses different scoring models and maintains its own credit report data, so it’s not unusual for your three credit scores to vary slightly. But the difference in credit scores could be striking with the addition of new, negative information to your credit report.
Any differences of 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.
What can you do about a credit score discrepancy?
Minor credit score discrepancies 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 it.
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.
If you notice a significant discrepancy on one or more of your credit scores, your first step should be to review all three of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can order your reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Keep a keen eye on any errors or fraudulent information. If anything looks incorrect or unusual in your reports, dispute that information with the credit reporting agency.