Credit scores have a mighty influence on our financial lives. So, it’s no surprise that people want to know more about two popular scores: the FICO score and VantageScore.
Read on to learn more about the similarities — and differences — between these two key scores.
The history of credit scores
Imagine a world in which every time you applied for credit, someone with expertise had to personally go through your entire credit history and make a subjective judgment about whether you deserve a car loan or credit card.
Well, that’s the way the credit world worked until the 1950s. That’s when a couple of guys, Bill Fair and Earl Isaac, came up with a new idea: Use an automated formula to distill all that credit information into a single, simple number. Voila! Now, you don’t need expertise or experience to determine creditworthiness. Run the formula, and a chimpanzee can grant credit.
Bill and Earl took their idea, created a company called Fair Isaac, and started selling their new system, called FICO scoring, to lenders. It took a couple of decades to gain widespread acceptance, but eventually their credit score simplified the business of lending.
And their patience was richly rewarded because they created a near-monopoly on credit scoring. Even today, FICO clients include 95 of the 100 largest financial institutions in the U.S., and all of the 100 largest U.S. credit card issuers.
In 2006, the three major credit-reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — got together and launched the VantageScore. They began providing their new score to websites like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame and NerdWallet, and those sites began giving it away free to attract subscribers.
So, what’s the difference between the FICO score and VantageScore? They measure the same thing: your ability to repay a loan. And they do it in essentially the same way: by examining things like your payment history, level of debt, the type of credit you have and how much of it you’re using.
Both of their most recent models yield a range from a low of 300 to a perfect 850.
But there is one major difference: The FICO score is used by way more lenders than any other score. Despite the fact that VantageScore has now been around for a while, the FICO score is still by far the most widely used credit score.
So, if you want to see the score that your lender is most likely to actually use, you want to see your FICO score.
Free credit scores
As I mentioned, it’s easy to get a free VantageScore by going to any number of websites. In the past, free FICO scores were much harder to find. The law does require lenders to furnish a FICO score if you’re turned down for credit, or in certain other situations. But until relatively recently, if you wanted to see your FICO score, you had to pay for it.
These days, however, finding a free FICO score is simple. Lots of banks and credit card companies offer them free — sometimes even when you’re not a customer. I can look at mine for free every month from at least three sources: the two credit card companies I use, along with my bank.
We outline some of the best ways to get a free look at your FICO score in “7 Ways to Get Your FICO Credit Score for Free.”
While there are subtle differences between FICO and VantageScore credit scores, the real difference is that the FICO score is the one most lenders use.
Just keeping an eye on your credit? The VantageScore is fine. But if you’re about to borrow big, I’d recommend tracking your FICO score.
I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and I’ve also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate.