Here at credit.org, a former client was excited to tell us that her credit score was 723. That’s a respectable score, and much higher than she expected given her credit history. Another consumer who had recently been the victim of identity theft checked her credit and was ecstatic to learn that her score was right at 800, which is as high a score as anyone needs.
Unfortunately, they had both been misled. Their scores weren’t nearly as good as they thought.
Since 1956, FICO (formerly called Fair Isaac Corporation) has provided credit scoring services to help lenders and creditors evaluate their customers’ creditworthiness.
They created the FICO score, which evaluates a consumer’s credit report and generates a score between 300 and 850.
In 2006, the major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, joined forces to create VantageScores to compete with FICO. One of the bureaus, Experian, even went so far as to stop offering FICO score information to consumers. Since then they’ve been aggressively marketing VantageScores, which range from 501 to 999.
Credit scores are designed for lenders, not for consumers, though a consumer can purchase 2 of the three FICO scores to get an idea of whether they will be granted credit and at what terms. VantageScores are also marketed to consumers, particularly when they order their free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com.
While VantageScores are a bit less expensive than FICO scores, the overwhelming majority of creditors and lenders use FICO to evaluate potential borrowers, so it is the only score you should concern yourself with.
VantageScores unintentionally misled consumers. If you, like the two consumers we mentioned above, didn’t know better and purchased a VantageScore, and learned that it was 723, you might falsely believe your credit is healthy. 723 is a relatively good FICO score, but it’s a mediocre VantageScore. There’s no direct conversion, but a VantageScore of 723 is approximate to a FICO score of 621. So in this example, a consumer goes from thinking they have a score that is just above the line of good credit, and instead finds their credit is right at the cutoff that separates prime from subprime (See our infographic What is a Good Credit Score?).
These new credit scores from the bureaus therefore do more harm than good; they create confusion and don’t provide the information that most creditors will be looking at when they evaluate a consumer.
When you visit the annualcreditreport.com web site to get your free report, you will be offered the opportunity to purchase your credit score. We strongly advise that you NOT do this, because it’s your VantageScore that the bureaus are trying to sell you there. It’s not worth paying for. If you’d like to know your score, stick with FICO and visit www.myfico.com.
To learn more about credit scores, check out our Understanding Your Credit Reports and Scores course and our Consumer Guide to Good Credit, both available for free right here in the FIT Academy.