FICO Score vs.
Credit Score:
What’s The Difference?

Updated: May 23, 2019 

mike-pearson

Did you know that your "credit score" and your FICO score are actually two slightly different things?

You see, while a FICO score is always a credit score, a credit score is not always a FICO score. 

FICO is actually a branded model for scoring credit, a trademarked method that many lenders use, but it’s not necessarily synonymous with the term “credit score.”

Basically, "credit scores" refer to the scores each credit bureau assigns you.

FICO, on the other hand, takes the same information on your different credit reports and calculates your score a little differently. So, for each credit bureau, you can have a different credit score and FICO score.

What are FICO scores?

FICO is a scoring model developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation in the 80s as a way to determine consumer credit risk, and for lenders to be able to make better decisions based on facts that could be assessed with real data.

Today, it’s the most widely-used scoring model for lenders, and any time you’ve ever applied for any type of loan, chances are, this is what the lender checked.

A FICO score is a three-digit score that usually ranges from 300-850, with 850 being the best credit score you can attain (I say usually because some industries use the same model but use a different scale).

It uses the information it gathers from your credit reports from the major reporting bureaus to calculate scores that are standard for most lenders.

But it’s important to note that because your information can differ between bureaus, you could also have several different FICO scores. 

Fair Isaac also updates its scoring versions from time to time, sort of like a software company updates its programming. 

While the factors never change, each update takes consumer behavior into account with the changes. 

For example, credit is used much more for everyday purchases now than it was when the scoring model first came into effect. 

So, they have to consider that in the calculation or what is normal credit usage today might look extremely high risk in previous models. 

What is VantageScore?

Before we delve much deeper into the logistics of the FICO score, it might be helpful to mention the other major scoring model some lenders use: VantageScore.

VantageScore is a newer scoring model that came out in 2006, and it is used by about 10% of lenders to make credit decisions.

It still relies on specific calculations and percentages, but what makes it different from FICO is that you can establish a credit history a lot faster. In other words, you can have a VantageScore with even a very short credit history, whereas it could take up to six months to get a FICO score.

But there are also a couple of other key differences.

Each scoring model uses the same 300-850 scale and the same factors to determine your score, but Vantage judges some a little less harshly.

Late mortgage payments, for instance, carry more weight than late credit card payments. And secondly, Vantage only pays attention to credit inquiries made in the last 14 days, whereas FICO keeps track of them for 45.

Every creditor makes their own choices as to which scoring model they use, so you don’t really have a choice in how you’re evaluated.

But what you can do if you have a short credit history is find out which ones use Vantage instead of FICO.

How to check your credit scores (including FICO)

You can check your credit score a few different ways, but there are some methods that are easier and more inclusive than others.

One of our top recommendations is always Discover’s Credit Scorecard because it is free for anyone to use. And yes, we do mean anyone.

We have an entire step-by-step guide that you can check out here:

All you have to do is sign up to get access to your current FICO score, an overview of your credit report, and advice on how to improve it. They’ve made this service available to its customers for a long time, but in 2016 they opened it up to the general public.

The second method we recommend for getting your credit scores is Credit Karma, which is also free for anyone who signs up and gives you your credit score and a snapshot of your reports.

While Credit Karma also gives you recommendations for credit products you might qualify for based on your unique situation, the difference between the two is that the Discover Scorecard uses Experian credit bureau and calculates your FICO score. But Credit Karma uses TransUnion and Equifax and calculates your VantageScore.

FICO scoring ranges

Like we mentioned earlier, FICO grades your credit score on a 300-850 scale, and your score is based on data they gather from one of the major credit bureaus.

They use a specific formula that involves percentages of several factors, which we’ll get into shortly.

But basically, here’s how it pans out:

  • 800-850: Exceptional. With this score range, you’re counted among the top 1% of consumers and considered a very low credit risk.
  • 740-799: Very good. This is still an excellent credit score range, landing you in the top 2% of consumers and in a low-risk category.
  • 670-730: Good. People with credit in this range are considered acceptable with medium risk. You won’t have a lot of trouble getting credit, but you might pay slightly higher rates.
  • 580-669: Fair. Credit in this range is starting to fall below national average and are considered medium to high risk individuals.
  • 300-579: Poor. With a low credit score in this range, you’ll be viewed as a poor risk for credit and likely pay a much higher interest rate if approved at all.

How credit scores and FICO scores are calculated

Since FICO is the most common score used by lenders to determine creditworthiness, we’ll examine how they calculate your score in detail.

But to give you an idea of how different credit models can work, let’s take a look at the credit bureaus.

Experian uses a model very similar to FICO, but their scores range from 330-830. Experian claims to use the information from a credit report in a much more thorough manner when calculating a score.

Similarly, Equifax uses a model almost identical to FICO, but their scores range from 280-850.  

By offering a broader score range, both these companies assume to give lenders a wider picture. They use the same percentages and factors to come up with their scores, but the bigger range gives you a bigger picture.

For example, someone with a 300 Experian score might be considered to be lower risk than someone with a 300 FICO score. And the two may have very different credit histories.

FICO score calculation

Payment history (35%)

This number is determined by how well you keep up with your payments. Making even one late payment can have a serious impact on your score, but installment loans carry more weight than revolving credit.

Credit utilization (30%)

Credit utilization represents how much of your available credit you’re using at any given time. Many experts recommend using no more than 30% of your available credit, but that is not necessarily a hard and fast rule for stellar credit.

Credit history (15%)

In order to even have a credit history, you usually have to have an open account for at least six months. But the longer you’ve had a credit history, the better your score in this category. Of course, if that history is bad, this factor will be outweighed by the negative.

Credit mix (10%)

This is a small percentage, but it lenders look favorably on your ability to manage different types of accounts. This could be a mixture of car loans, mortgages, personal loans, and credit cards. 

New credit (10%)

Opening a lot of new accounts within a short period of time can signal high-risk behavior to lenders. This is also where all your credit inquiries get calculated.

Why your credit score matters

Your credit score isn’t just important in terms of getting a loan for that new car you want, but it can also impact your life in ways you may never have imagined.

This is because so many companies now use it as a way to determine your character, reliability, and risk in activities other than just borrowing money.

For one, almost all landlords run background checks on potential tenants now. And while they’re not usually looking for a perfect score, most do want to see at least a 620.

Additionally, they might look for liens or bankruptcies that they feel make people bad credit risks.

A poor credit score can also hurt your chances of landing the job you want as most employers make credit checks part of their screening process.

But aside from getting you turned down for jobs and housing, bad credit can cause you to have to pay higher insurance premiums, utilities deposits and interest rates on loans.

Final thoughts

Knowing how credit scores work is one of the first steps in figuring out ways to keep yours high or repair it.

And if you understand the difference between the various scoring models, you’ll be able to more easily calculate the factors affecting you the most.  

About the Author


Mike Pearson

Mike is a recognized credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff. His credit advice has been featured in CNBC, Investopedia, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, Huffpost, The Simple Dollar, Reader's Digest, LendingTree, and Quickbooks. Read more.

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