5 Credit Scores That Really Matter

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When people talk about credit scores, they’re usually envisioning one particular score. However, there are actually dozens of different types. Some are broad overviews of your creditworthiness, while others are specialized for specific kinds of lending or financial decisions.

Keeping track of them all isn’t manageable – or particularly necessary – for the typical consumer. Instead, there are just a few that make a difference when it comes to your average person. With that in mind, here’s a look at five credit scores that really matter from the consumer perspective.

1. FICO

When it comes to quintessential credit scores, your FICO score – technically, you’re FICO 8 score – is it. Ninety percent of top lenders rely on this score when deciding whether to extend you credit. Whether you’re looking for new credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, personal loans or similar products, that means this is the score the lender is likely checking.

The FICO Credit Score was created by the Fair Isaac Corporation, and it’s been the go-to option for decades. It uses a credit score range of 300 to 850, with 850 being the best possible score a person can reach. The higher your score, the more attractive you are as a borrower, making it easier to secure new credit when the need arises.

FICO scores are compiled by each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. While they all use the FICO model, your scores with each lender may vary. In some cases, this is because lenders don’t have to report your accounts to all of the bureaus, causing your credit history to look different. Plus, there may be an error with one bureau but not the others that impacts your score.

2. VantageScore

VantageScore is another broad credit score, with the most widely used version being VantageScore 3.0. It’s not wholly unlike FICO. However, this one was developed by the three credit bureaus. Additionally, it isn’t necessarily as widely used by lenders. While nine out of the ten largest banks use VantageScore in some capacity, just 29 of the largest credit unions do.

VantageScore is more commonly used for credit card decisions, though it still may be involved with some personal loans, mortgages or auto loans. Also, your VantageScore may vary depending on the bureau calculating it since your credit history with each bureau may vary.

Like FICO, it uses a range running from 300 to 850. Again, the higher your score, the more creditworthy you’re considered by lenders. However, while the range is the same, the way your score is calculated is different. VantageScore gives more weight to your payment history and amount owed than FICO, which could work for or against you, depending on your situation.

3. FICO Mortgage Scores

When you’re applying for a mortgage specifically, lenders may not use your regular FICO score (or FICO 8). Instead, they may turn to an alternative FICO score that’s specifically designed to assess mortgage risk. This is especially true for conforming loans, where getting your FICO score is essentially a requirement.

Each bureau has its own FICO mortgage score. There’s the FICO 2, which is also known as the Experian FICO Risk Model v2. Additionally, there’s the FICO 4 – the TransUnion FICO Risk Score 4 – and FICO 5 – the Equifax Score 5 – which may come into play if your lender favors those bureaus.

These FICO scores use modified scoring models that emphasize specific parts of your credit history. For example, they may place more weight on collateralized installment loans, particularly any previous mortgages you’ve had in the past.

4. FICO Auto Scores

Like mortgages, there are specialty scores for auto loans that use a slightly modified FICO model. There are several variants in this category. The FICO Auto Score 9 and FICO Auto Score 8 are used by all three bureaus. FICO Auto Scores 2, 4 and 5 are used by Experian, Equifax and Transunion, respectively.

Again, the goal of these FICO scores is to determine whether you’re a financial risk for auto loans specifically. As a result, they give more weight to parts of your credit history that matter in this scenario, such as your past activity regarding auto loans.

5. FICO Bankcard Scores

Finally, you have FICO Bankcard Scores. These are specialized to factor in parts of your credit history that matter most to credit card issuers. As a result, they usually put more emphasis on your past credit card-related history over personal or collateralized loans.

FICO Bankcard Scores 8 and 9 are used by all three bureaus. Experian also has FICO Bankcard Score 2 and FICO Score 3, while Equifax and TransUnion offer FICO Bankcard Scores 5 and 4, respectively.

How to Maintain Your Credit Scores

Generally speaking, most consumers only see their FICO 8 or VantageScore 3.0 scores on a semi-regular basis. Those are usually what’s viewable for free through certain credit-related apps or through their current credit card issuer or lender.

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The remainder of your credit scores are typically only viewable in specific situations. You may see them after a lender makes a decision based on one. Otherwise, there are specialized reports from the bureaus and myFICO, all of which typically come with a cost. Fortunately, paying for those isn’t always necessary.

In most cases, your basic FICO score gives you a decent indication of where your other scores sit if your credit history is strong overall. However, even if you’ve had some hiccups, improving those specialty scores requires essentially the same things as improving your VantageScore 3.0 or FICO score.

The foundation of a strong credit history is responsible credit usage. Along with making on-time payments, keeping your revolving credit utilization ratio low is essential. That’s why one of the most common credit card tips is to keep your credit utilization low and to make on-time payments, as that has a significant impact on your ability to secure other credit cards and various lending products in the future.

Also, avoid opening new credit accounts unnecessarily. Along with increasing your borrowing potential, which can work against you, it lowers the average age of your accounts and may lead to a high total number of accounts, which can be a red flag.

By managing your credit responsibly, all of your scores can usually head in the right direction or stay high if they’re already in a good place. So, make wise choices, and you can potentially increase your scores across the board.

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