Credit is on the minds of many. According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s (NFCC) 2013 Financial Literacy Survey, 19% of Americans are worried about their credit score. And the fact that credit can be complex and daunting isn’t helping ease consumers’ worries.
“It’s critical that consumers understand how credit works and take steps to improve it if need be,” says Patty Hasson, President and Executive Director of Clarifi. “Your score can be the determining factor in what interest rate you have when you’re buying a home or a car.”
Clarifi offers the following information to help clear up some of the confusion around credit scores.
Credit reports and scores are two different things
Credit report and credit score are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re really two different things. Your report details your credit history and includes things like loans you’ve taken out and credit accounts you have open. Your score is generated from the information in your report and is typically used by lenders to determine your risk of default.
You don’t have just one credit report and score
There are three major credit-reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—so you actually have three credit reports and scores. If you want to make sure your credit is in good shape, you should check all three, since the information each bureau has can vary.
Not all credit scores are created equal
Everyone wants the best credit score. But it’s important to know what type of score you have before comparing them, since there are different scoring models out there. The good news is that things are getting easier for consumers. FICO, the most popular credit score, has a range of 300 – 850 and just last month, competitor VantageScore Solutions introduced its VantageScore 3.0 score that uses the same number range.
You and your lender may not have the same score
In a 2011 report, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that 24% of the time, lenders see a score that’s one tier off from what a consumer would see. So your score may be in the excellent range of 740+, while the lender may see you in the good range of 680 – 740. Why? Lenders can use different scoring models tailored to the type of loans they offer.
You get what you pay for
Popular websites like Credit Karma tout the fact that they offer truly free credit scores, but they don’t offer FICO scores—meaning that their scores can vary. However, many users have reported that their scores from Credit Karma are close to what their FICO scores are.
So what’s a consumer to do? When checking your credit score, make sure you know the source of the score and what model is being used, so that you’re comparing your score apples to apples. Also make sure you understand any fees or obligations you may be signing up for. If you just want to review your three credit reports for free, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
And if you’re in the process of making a major purchase, like a home or a car, it’s a good idea to check your true FICO scores. Clarifi offers Credit Report Counseling, where a counselor pulls scores from all three credit bureaus and reviews them with you in depth. The counselor can also go over options you can take to improve your scores.
To schedule an appointment with a Clarifi counselor, call 800-989-2227 or click here.