FICO Score vs Credit Score: Do You Know Your FICO Credit Score?
Published 4/5/08 (Modified 3/1/12)
I think most people are aware to a certain degree that it's important to maintain a healthy credit score. To financial institutions, mortgage brokers, landlords, and even employers, it's a quantifiable measure of your reliability when it comes to money. The formulated number represents your credit worthiness and the degree to which you are able to take on debt. Most banks and lenders utilize your credit score to determine how much interest they must charge you to compensate them for the risk of extending you credit. It impacts everything from applying for a home mortgage loan to getting approved for a routine balance transfer credit card. The lower the score, the higher the risk, and thus the higher the interest rate imposed to compensate for the likelihood of default. Especially during a time that the credit markets are getting battered, it's more important than ever to know your credit situation. It never hurts to keep tabs on your report, and to find ways to improve your credit score, since you never know when you may need to call upon your good credit. Remember, monitoring your own credit report is not considered a hard credit check, so you don't have to worry that it will hurt your credit score.
To combat the rise of identity theft and to give people more control over their credit lives, the Fair Credit Reporting Act offers consumers access to one free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This free credit report is available only through the official free credit report website, however, the free annual report does not include a free credit score. That has to be separately obtained by the applicant. But fear not - there are ways to get your credit score for free and inexpensively. If you don't mind taking advantage of liberal free trial periods or even applying for a credit card offer, then you have options at your disposal.
The FICO Credit Score Is What You Want - All Other Credit Scores Are Impostors
I'm personally obsessed with the FICO score, but that's because I see it as the most widely adopted and uniform measure of credit worthiness. However, there are numerous types of competing credit scores out there as well. The major credit reporting agencies have all developed their own credit scoring mathematical formulas and tried to push their scoring systems into the marketplace. However, those alternative scores are all currently useless imitations - mere feeble attempts to avoid having to pay royalty fees for using the most established scoring system of them all - the FICO credit score, developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. The FICO score is comprehensive and takes into consideration your entire credit history, current debt, payment history, account makeup, and all credit related activity. The FICO score that is produced ranges from 300 to 850, with 300 representing the worst credit score imaginable and 850 representing the positive end of the scale. Generally, any FICO score that is 700 or higher is regarded as very good and decent enough to secure favorable terms on credit applications.
Avoid The Fake Credit Scores (Also Known As Fako's) Such As TransUnion Score, Experian Plus Score, and the VantageScore
The variety of credit scores out there can be rather confusing at times and the credit reporting agencies do their job of making things extra cloudy to trick consumers into buying their brand of credit scores. On top of that, many people seem to confuse FICO scores with FICA's, which is something else completely. The FICA score is a similar sounding acronym in the world of personal finance that people sometimes confuse with FICO.
Regardless, the FICO credit score is the genuine article and the only one I personally care about when I request my credit report and score. The FICO score can be obtained separately from each of the major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Upon request, each pulls up all of the credit history information they've recorded to formulate a number based on the FICO scoring system. But keep in mind, if you request from the wrong place, the score issuer may end up trying to sell you a TransUnion Score, an Experian Plus score, or the jointly developed VantageScore. These alternative scores are similar to the FICO in methodology but their scoring numerations are different. For example, the VantageScore ranges from 501 to 990. It was developed by the three major credit reporting agencies as a competitor to the FICO, but the score is not commonly accepted and remains unproven. Until the VantageScore become more popular and broadly adopted, I recommend that you avoid this particular score, and stick with the FICO. Never blindly assume you are getting a FICO score - always make sure it says FICO, and not just simply "credit score". You want to request consistent and universal scores over time so that you can compare apples to apples, and not apples to oranges.
The Process Of Obtaining and Finding Out Your Free FICO Credit Score
When you start searching for a way to review your FICO score for free, you will probably come across a lot of online businesses offering you a free score. However, these free scores typically require you to sign up for a particular credit service, usually some type of credit monitoring report that will alert you to any suspicious activity or changes in your credit history file. For those who want to diligently stay on top of their credit scores or anticipate needing credit in the next few months, these services may provide you with worthwhile fraud and credit improvement protection, but they usually also come with a monthly fee. To take advantage of these free trial services for the complimentary period (usually 30 days), you will usually have to give the company your credit card number upfront before you can view your FICO score. I've personally obtained my FICO score for free before with no problem by signing up for free trial offers, and canceling the service before the end of the trial period to avoid getting billed. It's not that difficult - just make sure you cancel in time. Sometimes the companies make it a little harder for you to cancel by requiring the account to stay active for a few weeks, or require that you use their slow customer service phone number instead of canceling online, but there will always be a way to cancel before the trial deadline is up.
There are plenty of companies out there that purport to offer free FICO credit monitoring or credit score viewing trial periods, but I recommend that you stick with the more established sites such as MyFICO (for more information, please read the MyFICO Review). This is to avoid stumbling onto scam sites or falling prey to dishonest companies. You want to be extra careful because you will be handing over your social security number, name, and address to verify your identity. As for those who have a ethical problem with signing up for a service with the expectation of canceling, you may wish to refrain. As for me, I have an interesting track record of taking advantage of great store return policies, so this is nothing new to me. Apart from the free myFICO credit score offers listed below, if you are interested in checking or tracking your FICO for the long term, I highly recommend that you utilize myFICO promo codes for maximized discount savings.
Here Are My Recommended Ways To Get Your FICO Credit Score For Free (Or At An Affordable Low Cost):
1. MyFICO Score Watch - Free 30 Day Trial Period (Equifax) - You may try to take advantage of MyFICO's free credit trial periods. The biggest advantage is that all credit scores you order from MyFICO are all genuine FICO's. With the 30 Day Free MyFICO Score Watch, you get an Equifax credit report and corresponding FICO score for $8.95 per month. There is a 30 day free trial available. If you forget to cancel within 30 days, there is an annual payment of $89.95. Don't forget!
2. MyFICO Quarterly Monitoring - $4.95 A Month (TransUnion) - If you've used up the above options, you may want to consider the MyFICO Quarterly Monitoring package. You can cancel after the first month, but for this one you'll have to pay the small monthly fee. With this package you get a TransUnion credit report and a genuine FICO score provided by TransUnion every 3 months. The cost is $4.95 a month, but if you cancel within the first month, your only cost is only $4.95. Still pretty affordable if you ask me. If you want quarterly tracking for a year, it's also available for one annual payment of $49.95.
3. TransUnion CS 3-In-1 Credit Report With FICO - $34.95 For One FICO Score From TransUnion and All 3 Reports (All 3 - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) - This offer provides you all three credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies, but it only provides you one FICO credit score from TransUnion. There is no trial period. As I'll explain later below, TransUnion Consumer Solutions offers genuine FICO scores, unlike its evil twin sibling, TransUnion.com.
4. MyFICO Standard Score and Report - $15.95 For One FICO and One Report (Choice Of One - Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) - With the FICO Standard product from MYFICO, you can choose an individual FICO credit score and credit report from one of the big three reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The above options are cheaper choices for Equifax and TransUnion but this option is the cheapest FICO option for Experian.
5. MyFICO Credit Complete - $47.85 For All 3 Credit Reports And All 3 FICO Credit Scores (All 3 - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) - If you want to know your complete credit status, you will need a service like MyFICO's Credit Complete. There is a one time $47.85 fee or an annual purchase subscription of $42.84 (you can always cancel to stop the automatic annual repurchase). Unfortunately there is no free offer, but this is the genuine FICO deal if you want your complete credit information from all three agencies. If you are looking to buy a house or something major, you may want to order this at least once.
6. Suze Orman's MyFICO Platinum Kit - $49.95 (Same Deal As MyFICO Credit Complete) - If you love financial guru Suze Orman and want to make her rich, you can always go with this option. Of course, keep in mind that this is the same as the MYFICO Credit Complete offer in that they both provide you 3 FICO credit scores and 3 credit reports from the major credit reporting agencies. The interesting catch is that Suze's Kit is slightly more expensive at $49.95. If you idolize her financial prowess and want to use her endorsed product, then go right ahead. However, I don't particularly recommend it over the other cheaper options. No offense, Suze.
Credit Score and Credit Report Programs To Avoid Like The Plague:
1. FreeCreditReport.Com - This site is the biggest advertiser on television for credit report services and it's also the most misleading. Calling it a complete credit scam may be a bit much, but its deceptive domain name certainly doesn't help its cause. Do not confuse this site with the official annual credit report site. The company does provide you 3 credit reports from all major credit reporting agencies, but it does not provide you a FICO credit score. The site offers its own proprietary PLUS score, not FICO. You should avoid FreeCreditReport.com, lest you end up with an unproven FAKO score that will do you little good when it comes time to compare the score to FICO based loan charts.
2. TransUnion.com - TransUnion does a wonderful job of confusing consumers. You should never order anything directly from TransUnion.com since they only provide you something called a TransRisk credit score, which is not the same as a FICO credit score. If you want your FICO score from TransUnion, you need to visit the sister site: Transunioncs.com, which stands for TransUnion Consumer Solutions, or you can always order your TransUnion scores via MyFICO. Why the company chose to make things so confusing for consumers is a wonderful question for which I haven't the foggiest clue.
3. TrueCredit.com - This site utilizes the TransRisk scoring system as well. While similar to the FICO, it is not the same.
4. PrivacyMatters.com - Yet another site that utilizes the TransUnion TransRisk credit score. Remember, if the site does not proudly advertise its scores as FICO, but merely refers to them as "credit scores", then it's not offering the real McCoy. If you want a genuine FICO, look elsewhere.
5. Experian.com - Experian offers a Triple Advantage 3-in-1 credit report and credit score product from its website, but you should avoid it. The score it provides you is its own PLUS credit score, and not the FICO score you want. You should also avoid any of its one time non subscription products as well. Back when all of the credit agencies and Fair Isaac played well together, consumers were able to obtain their 3 FICO scores from each of the 3 major credit report bureaus. However, major contractual disputes eventually led Experian to pull out of its long standing credit score arrangement with MyFICO. Thus while Equifax and TransUnion FICO scores are still presently available to credit score seekers, consumers can no longer get access to their Experian FICO scores directly from the MyFICO website at this time. There are still limited ways to get an Experian FICO score, but the methods aren't easy or widely available.