Q:  We recently applied for a car loan from a bank and were told that our credit scores were much lower than what we see online at freecreditreport.com.  Does the bank get a different “credit score” than what’s reported on credit monitoring websites?  If not, how do we dispute this discrepancy?

A: You’re not alone in your confusion about differing credit scores—most people are thrown off by them.  In fact, it is very likely that your bank had a different credit score from the scores reported on freecreditscore.com.  This is because there are many different credit score brands out there, ranging from freecreditscore.com to others like FICO and even private bank-branded scores.

The one thing that all credit scores have in common is that they are based on the information in your credit report.  This information is used in a credit score company’s secret formula, and turns into your credit score.  That’s why this is also a good time to closely review the information on your credit reports.  If you find any discrepancies, you need to contact each credit bureau directly.   Learn how to dispute information on your credit report.

The easiest way to determine which credit score your bank is using is to ask them.  If it turns out they are using the Experian PLUS brand of credit score (which is the one provided by freecreditscore.com), you should ask them which credit report the score is based on.  Everyone has 3 different credit reports, one from each of the 3 credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.  It’s possible that the bank is looking at your Experian PLUS credit score for your Experian credit report, while you are looking at your Experian PLUS score for your TransUnion credit report.  This could explain the discrepancy.

Additionally, credit scores are a moving target.  You should look at the date you checked your credit scores.  If they were checked on a different date than the day the bank pulled your scores, the information on your credit report could have changed, thereby updating your credit scores.

The best way to stay on top of your credit scores is to closely monitoring your credit reports.  This is because your credit reports are the building blocks for your credit scores.  You can do this yourself, but constantly pulling your credit reports can get really expensive.  A more economic solution is subscribing to a credit monitoring service.