What is a Credit Score?
Credit scores influence the credit that's available and the terms (interest rate, etc.) that lenders may offer. It's a vital part of credit health.
When a consumer applies for credit - whether for a credit card, an auto loan, or a mortgage - lenders want to know what risk they'd take by loaning money. When lenders order a credit report, they can also buy a credit score that's based on the information in the report. A credit score helps lenders evaluate a credit report because it is a number that summarizes credit risk, based on a snapshot of a credit report at a particular point in time.
It is important to understand that not every credit score offered for sale online is a FICO® Score.
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About FICO® Scores
The most widely used credit scores are FICO® Scores, the credit scores created by Fair Isaac Corporation. 90% of top lenders use FICO® Scores to help them make billions of credit-related decisions every year. FICO® Scores are calculated based solely on information in consumer credit reports maintained at the credit reporting agencies.
By comparing this information to the patterns in hundreds of thousands of past credit reports, FICO® Scores estimate your level of future credit risk.
What is a good credit score?
Base FICO® Scores have a 300-850 score range. The higher the score, the lower the risk. But no score says whether a specific individual will be a "good" or "bad" customer.
While many lenders use FICO® Scores to help them make lending decisions, each lender has its own strategy, including the level of risk it finds acceptable for a given credit product. There is no single "cutoff score" used by all lenders and there are many additional factors that lenders use to determine your actual interest rates.
Reasons for your credit score
When a FICO® Score is calculated from your credit report, the credit reporting agency will also provide up to five reasons that are most heavily influencing that particular score. These reasons are usually negative, because they are the reasons why the credit score isn't higher.
The minimum required to calculate a FICO® Score
For a FICO® Score to be calculated, your credit report from the bureau for which the score is being calculated must contain enough information - and enough recent information - on which to base a credit score. Generally, that means you must have at least one account that has been open for six months or longer, and at least one account that has been reported to the credit bureau within the last six months.
FICO® Scores at each credit bureau
You have FICO® Scores for each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Each FICO® Score is based on information the credit bureau keeps on file about you.
FICO® Scores from each credit bureau consider only the data in your credit reports at that bureau. Your credit scores may be different at each of the credit bureaus. If your current scores from the credit bureaus are different, it's probably because the information those bureaus have on you differs.
Your FICO® Scores will change over time
As the information in your credit report changes, so will any new credit score based on your credit report. So your FICO® Scores from a month ago are probably not the same score a lender would get from the credit bureau today.
Other credit scores
While FICO® Scores are used by 90% of top lenders, there are other credit scores made available to consumers. Other credit scores may evaluate your credit report differently than FICO® Scores. When purchasing a credit score for yourself, most experts recommend getting a FICO® Score, as FICO® Scores are used in 90% of lending decisions.