Don’t like your credit score? Ask for another «
Given that there are now at least seven different websites maintaining 13 separate credit scores that can differ by as much as 100 points, Capristo, and millions of other consumers, have no way to know where they stand.
To demonstrate how confusing the range of three-digit numbers could be, MarketWatch used Facebook and Twitter to connect with readers who have been trying to increase their credit scores. Like Capristo, Thomas Renna, an equities analyst in Cranford, N.J., also received a wide range of scores — from 578 to 668. “I’m confused, and I don’t even know which number is right,” says Renna.
Most Americans are unaware that there’s more than one credit score out there. They believe they know their score when they check one site. But depending on which site they choose, they’re likely to find numbers that tell conflicting stories about their credit standing.
Credit scores determine consumers’ access to credit and the interest rates that they can get on loans. In many cases, they also dictate how much consumers will pay for car and home insurance and whether they can rent an apartment.
Getting the right number is important given that a difference of even one point can change the rate on a loan: For instance, a borrower with a 760 or higher FICO credit score (the measure used in most consumer-lending decisions) would currently get an average interest rate of 4.11% on a 30-year $300,000 fixed-rate mortgage, according to FICO and Informa Research Services, a market-research company. But someone with a 759 FICO score would end up with a 4.33% rate, on average.
The credit-score industry, for its part, says credit-score variations are common. Norm Magnuson, spokesman for the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents the major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, says this occurs when consumers’ credit files are not updated at the same time. As consumers pay down or rack up debt, that activity is reported to the bureaus and added to their credit reports (which determines their scores) though each bureau may not receive or add this data simultaneously. On top of that, he says, every bureau or company that develops a score has a slightly different algorithm and scale.
Credit-management sites like CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com , which give scores for free, say their numbers help to give consumers an idea of where they stand. There’s a “high correlation between different credit-score models,” says Ken Lin, founder and CEO of CreditKarma.com.
So what’s behind all the confusion?
A consumer’s credit scores vary on several levels. Almost every score has a different scale — so scores that appear to be the same are actually not. The FICO score, for instance, is on a scale of 300 to 850, while credit bureau Experian’s “National Equivalency Score” runs from 360 to 840. A 700 out of 850 is not the same as a 700 out of 840.
Differences also exist between scores that are supposed to be of the same type. Renna, for instance, found that he had three different FICO scores — each score is calculated based on the credit report at each of the three major bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — that varied by six points. Separately, some scores’ scales have been updated, while at the same time, some sites still offer scores based on the older scale. Capristo and Renna found two different numbers for their VantageScore, the credit score created by the three bureaus — one based on an old scale that ranges from 501 to 990, and another, new one, that ranges from 300 to 850. (VantageScore, for its part, says its scores are marketed and sold independently by the credit bureaus and that websites offering scores can choose from dozens of credit-scoring models, including its old version.)
“The bottom line here is that it’s a mess,” says John Ulzheimer, consumer-credit expert with CreditSesame.com and a former manager at FICO. “No person out there in the general population understands all this.”
That’s largely why Capristo and Renna’s findings are typical, credit experts say, and why consumers who check their scores can end up confused or misled. A 2012 study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that one out of five consumers who purchases a credit score will likely receive a “meaningfully different score” than a lender.