What is a credit score?
Your true credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that evaluates your risk as a borrower. There is one source and one source only for your true credit score (aka FICO score) — the Fair Isaac Corporation.
A score of above 700 on the FICO scale is like getting a B+ in school. Anyone with a FICO score of 760-850 is an A student, or what’s called ‘golden’ in the industry, which means you’re a great credit risk for a lender.
The three main bureaus hate that FICO dominates the credit score market, so they started selling their own impostor score called a VantageScore. This is just one of hundreds of trademarked, proprietary scoring systems that’s competing with the FICO score. Unless you’re careful, the VantageScore is the one you’ll most often be sold in the marketplace. The VantageScore begins at 501 and tops out at 990.
Getting your true credit score
You have a FICO score with each of the three main credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each bureau’s score will vary slightly because of differences in the way they compile information on you. But they’ll all be similar in range. (The credit score most used by lenders is the Equifax FICO score.)
Experian no longer permits consumers to purchase their FICO scores, but these scores are still available to businesses. The Equifax FICO score remains available to consumers, however it is bundled with other unnecessary items like credit monitoring and credit reports. The cost of these bundles is high, ranging from roughly $20 to $40 annually or monthly charges of $13 to $15. (Remember, you can get free access to your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.)
In addition, Equifax now sells a proprietary credit score called Equifax Credit Score to consumers by phone for $7.95 when you call 1-877-SCORE-11. (Do not use the Equifax website to order this score or you will pay $15.95!) The score is sent by regular mail in 7-10 days.
The Equifax Credit Score score ranges from 280-850, not the 300-850 scale of the FICO score. However, because the score you receive is quite close to your true FICO score, this remains the least expensive way to get a very close approximation of your FICO score. In some cases, it may be the exact same number of both scores.
Meanwhile, all active duty military personnel can see their real true FICO score for free online by visiting SaveandInvest.org/military.
Free non-FICO approximations of your credit score
Not all credit scores are created equal, as I’ve shown you with the VantageScore. There are your FICO scores and then there’s everybody else’s scores! Financial writer Greg Karp has even coined the phrase ‘FAKO’ score to denote all the impostors.
Despite the name, ‘FAKO’ scores have some real benefits for you. They’re free and instantly available, which means you can stay abreast of your creditworthiness on the cheap whenever you want, with some limitations.
- CreditKarma.com gives you a ‘FAKO’ score based on your TransUnion report once daily.
- Quizzle.com gives you their ‘FAKO’ score based on your Experian report twice a year.
Each of these free services may try to up-sell you on a variety of additional services. But there’s no obligation to buy anything to get a ‘FAKO’ score.