FICO scoresThe world of credit can be very confusing for the uninitiated. With all the different credit bureaus, credit reports, credit scores and everything in between, there are a lot of details for consumers to take into account when managing their credit. One thing that we’re often asked about is whether FICO scores are the same as credit scores. In this post, we’re detailing what FICO scores are, how they relate to the credit reporting process and how you can check your FICO scores.

What are FICO scores?

FICO, which stands for Fair Isaac Corporation, is a data analytics company specializing in credit assessment. Its key product, the FICO score, is a type of credit score that’s created using a number of proprietary formulas and provided to lenders upon request. FICO claims that its scores are used by 90% of “top lenders,” but it’s important to note that other alternative scoring methods exist alongside the FICO score. For example, FICO’s own XD score is a method designed to assess the risk of lending to those with a limited credit history. Outside of other FICO models, VantageScore is an alternative scoring method created by the big three credit bureaus to compete with FICO scores. In addition, newer lending companies are increasingly relying on their own data and models to serve their customers. Despite its many competitors, FICO still dominates most lending markets, although this might slowly be changing.

Other things to note about FICO scores

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that, as alluded to above, FICO is only one type of credit score, which means that it is not synonymous or interchangeable with the concept of a credit score itself. The other important thing worth noting is that although FICO is one of the most popular scoring models (or at least it claims to be), there are multiple FICO scores. FICO itself notes that it creates slightly different scores for each bureau, but it’s worth considering that there are not just three FICO scores. Instead, there are multiple FICO scores created uniquely for each bureau. Before FICO score 9, the most recent version of the FICO score, experts estimated that there were over 50 FICO scores. This fact really brings home the point that there’s no one credit score that lenders rely on or that consumers can access. Consumers definitely need to be aware of this whenever looking at any credit score, so that they have perspective. Even though getting access to any of your credit scores is a privilege that you should take advantage of, you’ll want to keep in mind that since credit scores are just a snapshot of your credit health, you’re really only getting a full view when you’re checking a score representing each of the three bureaus.

Which credit score model should I view?

Every lender has a preferred credit score model that it uses to check an applicant’s credit scores. It could be FICO, VantageScores, a custom model or any other model — you really won’t know until you apply or ask the lender before you apply. While you could concentrate on just your FICO scores, there’s really no guarantee that all lenders or card issuers you encounter will use that model. As such, instead of trying to exclusively check their FICO scores, consumers should aim to have a general idea of where their credit scores stand. For the vast majority of consumers, a credit report monitoring service is the best solution because it provides you with regular updates to their credit reports and scores, as well as alerts them if their credit scores or reports change. Although these services don’t always provide copies of your FICO credit scores, you will receive educational versions of your credit scores that are designed to give you a complete view of your credit health. If you’d prefer to exclusively check your credit scores, you may want to consider myFICO, which is a service provided by FICO. This service’s plans are a bit pricier than its competitors, but it might make sense for those who want their FICO scores. Alternatively, free versions of your credit score are available, too, although depending on the source, these may provide a more limited snapshot of your credit (usually you’ll only get a credit score from one bureau). Still, free scores are a great way to keep an eye on your credit health, especially if the alternative is not doing so at all.

For more information on reviewing and building your credit, continue reading our credit monitoring blog.