Q: How do I evaluate credit scores like 598, 657 and 728?

A:  To evaluate credit scores, you need to know four things;

1.  The credit score model (or brand name)
2.  Which of the 3 bureaus the score is from
3.  When the score was pulled (the date)
4.  What ranking this score represents.

Without this information the scores are fairly meaningless because you don’t have a framework to place them in. The best way to explain this is to compare it to getting a 65 on a test. Without knowing how many test questions there were, what each question was worth, the test subject and what your ultimate grade was (or how everyone else did) it’s impossible to tell whether this is a good or bad test score. The same logic applies to credit scores.

#1 – Credit Score Models
Common credit score models include the FICO® Score, Vantage Score, CreditXpert and Experian PLUS and Equifax’s BEACON but there are many more. In fact, there are dozens of different credit score models and each model uses their own “secret formula” to calculate your score. This formula is a closely held secret and is never disclosed in detail, however you can read our previous blog post about the factors commonly involved in calculating your credit score.

#2 – Which of the 3 credit bureaus the score is from
In all cases your credit score is based on the information in your credit report. And since you have 3 credit reports – one from each of the 3 credit bureaus; Equfiax, Experian and TransUnion – you have 3 different credit scores. To learn more, read this post about “Does Everyone Have 3 Different Scores“.

#3 – The Date Your Score Was Pulled
Another tenet is that credit reports, and therefore credit scores, vary over time. This means that your credit score today might be different from your credit score tomorrow.  The reasons credit score change is that your credit reports are evolving entities, and every time a change is reported to a credit bureau your credit report is updated (read this past blog post to learn more about why your scores change). When your credit report is updated, it can affect your credit score negatively or positively. This ongoing fluctuation in your credit report/score is one of the reasons we recommend checking your credit report on a regular basis and ongoing 3-bureau credit report monitoring.

#4 – How Your Score Is Ranked/Graded
Once the data in your credit report is passed through a credit score brand’s “secret formula” you will be given a credit score. However, without a scale and a ranking or “grade”, this score is useless.  The scale indicates the range available for the credit score. As an example, FICO has a range of 350-850 while the Vantage Score brand of scoring has a range of 501-990. The ranking indicates whether your score is seen as bad/average/good/excellent. When you receive a credit score, the issuing party (aka, credit score brand) should let you know how your score compares to others in the U.S. and/or how this score is ranked. Many of the credit monitoring services we review provide free credit scores and also let you know where you fall on the scale from bad to excellent.  In addition, they will usually tell you what specific factors are hurting or helping your score.

How To Use These Four Pieces of Information
Now, taking your examples of credit scores of 596, 657 and 728 I’m going to base my evaluations on two different assumptions. There are many other ways to evaluate the scores you provided, but these examples will give you an idea of how to use the 4 important data points to determine what your scores mean.

OPTION #1:  Let’s start by assuming these are all Equifax FICO® Scores that were pulled on November 2011, Jan 2012 and July 2012. FICO tends to keep their rating system secret, but some general guidelines are:

300-560:  BAD
561-659:  NOT GOOD
660-724:  GOOD
725-759:  VERY GOOD
760-850:  GREAT

If this was the case, congratulations — these scores indicate a definite upward trend from what is generally considered a “not good” FICO® Score of 598 to a higher “not good” score of 657 to a “very good” score of 728.  An upward trend is great, but it’s also a good idea to know what is driving this trend. Since your credit scores are based on the data in your credit reports, to learn more about what affects your credit score, read our post about the factors commonly involved in determining your credit score.  You should also keep a  close eye on what’s changing in your credit reports. An easy way to do this is with 3-bureau credit report monitoring, which will alert you when a change occurs. Some of our reviewed credit monitoring services even provide free trials and free 3-bureau scores and reports upon enrollment.

OPTION #2: In this case I’m assuming these are all Equifax FICO Scores that were pulled on the same day.  596 is your Equifax FICO Score, 657  is your Experian FICO Score and 728 is your TransUnion FICO Score. Using the rating guide above they are still “not good” and “very good” scores, but the variation across credit bureaus tells you that the credit report you have at each of the 3 bureaus is different. Your credit reports will often vary because creditors usually report to 1 or 2, but not all 3 credit bureau.  Because of this it’s highly recommended you obtain your credit reports on a regular basis and carefully read through them for any fraudulent or erroneous information.  Ensuring that your credit reports are accurate can help boost your score. As previously mentioned, we also recommend 3-bureau credit monitoring.  Many of our top reviewed credit monitoring services offer free trials and some even feature discounted pricing.

OTHER OPTIONS:  Now that you know how to use the 4 data points to determine what your credit score means, you can use them to evaluate your own credit scores.  Go forth and prosper!