A lot of credit advice centers on your FICO score. “Check your FICO score,” “Monitor your FICO score.” “Try to achieve a FICO score of at least [fill in arbitrary number].”
But the very nature of this advice is oversimplified – because nobody has a “FICO score” – that is to say, a single FICO score. There are multiple versions of the popular credit score that vary based on the type of credit and the credit bureau that supplied the information. Which one gets pulled for your application depends which score the lender prefers.
We asked Christina Goethe, FICO‘s director of communications, to help us make sense of it all.
FICO score versions used today
Each bureau has six or seven versions of the FICO score, and these account for 95 percent of the scores pulled by lenders, Goethe says.
Before we get into more detail, here’s a bird’s-eye view of the most commonly used versions of FICO:
|Types of FICO scores|
|Most widely used FICO version||FICO Score 8||FICO Score 8||FICO Score 8|
|Versions used in auto lending||FICO Auto Score 8|
FICO Auto Score 2
|FICO Auto Score 8|
FICO Auto Score 5
|FICO Auto Score 8
FICO Auto Score 4
|Versions used in credit card decisions||FICO Bankcard Score 8|
FICO Score 3
FICO Bankcard Score 2
|FICO Bankcard Score 8|
FICO Bankcard Score 5
|FICO Bankcard Score 8
FICO Bankcard Score 4
|Versions used in mortgage lending||FICO Score 2||FICO Score 5||FICO Score 4|
- FICO 9: FICO released this update in 2014, and it’s currently available to lenders. Some are using it for lending decisions now, Goethe says, while others are still evaluating it. “However, FICO Score 8 is still the most widely used today,” she says.
- NextGen Risk Score: This version (with its own unique algorithm) came out more than 15 years back. Today, it’s used by very few lenders, Goethe says.
- FICO Small Business Scoring Service (SBSS): The SBSS is used to measure business credit health (not personal). The Small Business Administration uses it to pre-screen loans it insures.
Why are there so many versions of the FICO score?
Various species of FICO scores exist because:
- There are three credit bureaus: Data collection is rarely perfect, so your credit data may vary between Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. For example, some of your accounts may be missing from one bureau’s credit report. You therefore have three base FICO scores – one for each bureau.
- FICO updates its algorithms: Every so often, FICO updates its algorithm and renames the score. The first iteration came out in 1989, and five more upgrades have been released since then. Lenders don’t convert to the newest version in lock step though, meaning the bank whose card you just applied for may not pull the most recent version.
“Each lender determines if and when they will upgrade to a newer version of the score,” Goethe says.
Even more confusing: While the naming of the scores across bureaus is pretty consistent these days (“FICO 8,” “FICO 9”), that’s not always been the case. Each bureau often gave its own name or numbering scheme to a score. So names differed across bureaus, even if the underlying base FICO score was the same.
- There are industry-specific scores: FICO tweaks its model to offer lenders scores customized for their industry – the Auto Score (for auto lending) and the Bankcard Score (for credit cards). The calculation of these scores starts with the “base” FICO score, but then includes additional industry-specific data. For example, your behavior with credit cards will carry extra weight in your Bankcard score.
Industry-specific scores range from 250 to 900 (instead of the familiar 300-850-range of the base FICO) because the industry-specific data may pull the score “even lower than the lowest possible base FICO score, and … even higher than the maximum possible base FICO score,” Goethe says.
Of course, lenders also upgrade to new industry-specific models in their own time — and older models retain the bureaus’ inconsistent naming conventions common in the past. In other words, combine factors 1, 2 and 3, and you’ll understand the diversity (and irregularity) of score types on the chart above.
How will I know which score gets pulled?
You don’t have any control over which model a lender uses, and you won’t know which one it used unless the issuer reveals it. It’s required to do so if your score was a factor in you getting rejected, thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Some issuers may disclose which score was used as a matter of course, whether the application was approved or denied.
Where can you see all the versions of your score?
Given that FICO scores are used in 90 percent of consumer-lending decisions in the U.S., according to Goethe, you may want a peek before applying. On myFICO.com, you can purchase your FICO scores from one credit bureau, or from all three. If you go for the all-three-bureaus option, you’ll get to see all 19 of the scores on the chart above (the most widely used ones).
Constant access to all your scores can get expensive (about $30 a month via an auto-renew subscription), so here’s some good news: You can get one or more of your scores for free. Some credit card issuers provide the FICO score they use to cardholders at no cost, thanks to FICO’s Open Access program.
More than 65 million consumer accounts in the U.S. have regular access to their FICO Scores for free via this program, according to Goethe.
Use our chart here to find out which cards give you free access to a FICO score. While it may not be the exact score every lender uses, monitoring it (and your credit reports) will at least help you get a read on your credit health.