The past several years anyone with internet access and an online banking or credit account has had access to the several free online credit scoring services.  These services are great for checking in and seeing where your credit score is at, unfortunately they may not always be accurate.

There are three main different credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion which all report scores differently.  For example, I use a credit card from Bank of America which uses their free online credit scoring system through Transunion who thinks my credit score is exceptional. But, my credit card from Capital One reports through Experian who thinks I am very dependable.

 

Another factor that can influence your score is when the company looks up your information. If the credit bureau pulls your report when you have a balance, you will have a lower score. But if they calculate it right after you make a big payment, it will be higher.

 

That’s certainly true in my case. My Transunion credit score is updated each month the day after my payment is due, so my balance is always at zero when they run it. The score provided by Experian was pulled in the middle of the month, when my balance tends to be at its highest. That likely affected my credit utilization ratio and lowered my score.

Even if you’re familiar with FICO scores, did you know that there are different scores depending on the kind of loan you’re pursuing?

There are actually 49 types of FICO scores, each using a different calculation and formula depending on the industry. For example, my Capital One card uses FICO score 8, a common score used by credit card companies to evaluate customers’ credit limits. It looks mainly at credit card usage and isolated late payments.

But my mortgage lender used FICO score 2, which also takes into account your other types of debt, such as student loans, personal loans, or auto loans — and that can result in a lower score.

While your score from the credit card company may not be 100 percent accurate for all borrowing scenarios, it’s still very useful in giving you a FICO score range.

Having a ballpark estimate of how good your score is can be helpful. If it’s lower than you would like, you can take steps to improve your credit, without having to spend money on a report.