many different types of credit scoresOne of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to credit is that each person only has a single credit score. That’s far from the truth — in reality, you have potentially dozens of different three-digit credit scores out there. This makes matters complicated, especially when it comes to the idea of seeing the credit scores that a lender or creditor uses to make a decision. Depending on whether you’re using a credit monitoring service, looking at free credit scores on a personal finance website or viewing credit scores provided as a perk from your credit card, you might see significantly different results. How many kinds of credit scores exist overall, why do so many credit scores exist and how can you make sense of it all?

How many different types of credit scores are there?

This can be a tricky question to answer, because it depends on who you’re asking. In general, when you use a credit monitoring service or look up your credit scores for free through a site like Credit Karma, you will see one credit score from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as these scores could be provided by a calculated by a number of providers. The majority of lenders and creditors in the U.S. use credit scores based on models from Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), according to FICO. All-told, there are more than 60 FICO scores available. In addition, you may see Vantage Scores, which were developed by the three credit bureaus to compete with FICO, as well as what are referred to as “educational” credit scores. These credit scores are developed by companies using their own proprietary models, or taking the FICO model then adding their own data to it, and thus might look quite different from your FICO scores. So, in short, each person has dozens upon dozens of credit scores, though you are unlikely to see more than just three (one from each credit bureau) at any given time.

Why are there so many different credit scores?

When FICO scores were introduced in 1989, there was a single general version available. However, in the years since, as consumer habits and lending have changed, so have FICO scores. The scoring model takes into account different factors to predict the likelihood a consumer will become 90 days behind on payments over the next two years on different debt types. Different versions tweak the formula to reflect the current climate. For example, FICO 9 — the most recent iteration introduced in 2014 — considers medical debt less significant and completely discounts paid collections accounts. There are dozens of versions of each evolution, since FICO will tweak its main credit score to suit each of the three credit bureaus, and then there are specialized FICO scores that are focused specifically on different types of credit. These include mortgage, auto loan and credit cards, and they have different point ranges than the general credit score range of 300 to 850. If you so desire, you can get access to 28 of these scores with a myFICO subscription.

Proprietary or educational credit scores offered by companies other than FICO also come into play, and can serve to make this all even more confusing. The way the FICO system works is that the three credit bureaus get the information from FICO and sell it to lenders or creditors, then pay royalties to FICO. In order to turn a bigger profit, some have come up with their own credit score models — such as Vantage Score. Credit scores you see that are referred to as educational should certainly be taken with a grain of salt, though it is possible for them to line up with your FICO scores.

What does all of this mean for the average consumer?

It can be easy to get bogged down in all the intricacies of the different credit scores available, but overall, you don’t need to. The average consumer doesn’t need to know all of their credit scores to build and maintain healthy credit. While you might want to do some comparison, purchasing credit scores from a credit monitoring service or directly from the source — either a credit bureau or FICO itself — as well as viewing free credit scores available to you, unless you’re applying for a very specific type of credit (such as a mortgage loan), your credit scores should primarily serve as a way to tell how you’re doing credit-wise. If you’re seeing credit scores below 700, it’s a good idea to check your credit reports and look for derogatory items that could be bringing your numbers down. Improving your less-than-excellent credit or maintaining excellent credit can be done through paying your bills on time, ensuring you don’t carry a balance on your credit cards, applying for new credit judiciously and a few other key financial habits. Credit certainly impacts many aspects of your life, but you don’t have to view it as confusing or mysterious.

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