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FICO score & credit score: what's the difference?

Credit Cards

What's the difference between a credit score and FICO® score?

Typically, you will find that there is not a significant difference between your credit score providers, but understanding how your credit scores are generated will help you understand what these terms mean.

How are credit scores generated?

When someone refers to a "credit score," they're generally referring to a three-digit rating that represents a borrower's history of repaying loans and lines of credit. The credit score is generated by applying credit rating company's algorithm like VantageScore® and FICO® to a borrower's credit report.

What does a credit score mean to a lender?

A credit score provides lenders with a snapshot of a borrower's risk. A high credit score tells the lender there's a low risk of the borrower defaulting on a line of credit or loan, while a low credit score signals to the lender there's a high risk of default.

Who creates credit scores?

Credit rating companies, like FICO, create credit scores based on information in credit reports, which are provided by the three credit rating bureaus, Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®.

Those credit reports are a collection of all the information lenders and other creditors provide the bureaus on a monthly basis, about how much credit you're using as well as your payment behavior and payment history.

Because many scoring models are in use, the same borrower might have different credit scores across different scoring models.

Can credit scores truly predict a borrower's ability to repay a loan?

Credit scores are not meant to be absolute predictors of whether someone is going to default on their credit payments or not. Rather, they're used by lenders like a barometer of a borrower's ability to repay a loan in the future. The Federal Reserve explains it well in its Report to Congress on Credit Scoring, where it states that "credit scores consistently predict relative loan performance within all population groups."

What is the typical credit score range?

Most credit rating companies' scores range from a low of 300 to a high of 850. A borrower with a credit score of 300 will likely not be able to find an approval for loans or lines of credit, while a borrower with a score of 850 should be eligible for just about any loan or line of credit approval.

What factors contribute to the FICO credit score?

Most credit rating companies use five main factors to build their credit score, each having a different level of impact. Here are the factors and their weights for the FICO Classic Credit Score®:

  1. Payment history (35% of score).

    What it looks at: Especially within the past two years, but up to the past seven years, how often do you meet your credit payments on time and in full?

    What it means: If lenders see a strong history of positive payments, they are more likely to see you as a trustworthy borrower.

  2. Amounts owed (30% of score).

    What it looks at: What is your credit utilization rate? Divide the total amount of credit you have been given by the total amount you currently owe.

    What it means: When your credit utilization rate is less than 30%, you are seen as a responsible manager of credit.

  3. Length of credit history (15% of score).

    What it looks at: What's the average age of your credit lines? (Think things like credit cards, mortgage and auto loans.)

    What it means: When lenders see a long average age, they can be confident that you have strong relationships with your creditors.

  4. Credit mix (10% of score).

    What it looks at: How many different lines of credit are currently open in your name?

    What it means: When lenders see a diverse mix of credit, they can feel confident that you are good at managing your credit lines.

  5. New credit (10% of score).

    What it looks at: How often are credit checks (inquiries) made for your credit score to open new lines of credit?

    What it means: When lenders see many new credit inquiries, they assign a higher level of risk to the borrower.

Does a FICO® credit score accurately predict a borrower's future ability to repay debt?

FICO did a study on how well its credit scores mirrored borrowers' risks for defaulting on their debt, and according to an analysis for the Federal Reserve, it looks like its credit score does correlate with a borrower's ability to repay debt in the future. It looked at the actual performance of borrowers between 2008 and 2010, relative to their credit scores and found this:

FICO® Score (version 8)

Odds of Default

610 5:1 (16.7%)
645 10:1 (9.1%)
685 20:1 (4.8%)
705 30:1 (3.2%)
720 40:1 (2.4%)
735 50:1 (2%)
770 100:1 (1%)

Is "credit score" the same as "FICO® score"?

Basically, "credit score" and "FICO® score" are all referring to the same thing. A FICO® score is a type of credit scoring model. While different reporting agencies may weigh factors slightly differently, they are all essentially measuring the same thing.

Lenders of home and auto loans, issuers of credit cards, landlords, cell phone companies, and utility companies take your credit score into consideration when offering you one of their products or services.