Editorial Policy

Why Are The Three Credit Bureaus Scores Different?

default author image

By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
September 28, 2009

Credit scores typically range between 300 to 850, and a surprising number of things in your life depend on where your score falls in that range. Certainly, your credit score influences your ability to get a credit card or get approved for a new loan. However, your credit score also influences how much you’ll pay for car insurance, whether you’ll get approved for a cell phone, and it’s even considered when you apply for a job or for a rental.

So with credit scores calling the shots in so many important areas of your life, have you ever wondered why credit scores differ so much between the three credit rating agencies? In fact, even though the three credit bureaus have access to the exact same information, it’s possible for someone to have a credit score of 705 on their Equifax report, 730 on their TransUnion report, and a credit score of 815 with Experian. What gives?

There are three main reasons that credit scores vary between the credit rating agencies:

Different ways of calculating the score. There are many different statistical methods for calculating credit scores. The most widely used method is the FICO score, which was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. However, the credit rating agencies all use their own methods of calculating credit score, sometimes referred to as FAKO (or FAK-O) scores. The three methods of calculating at times come close to each other, but they can also vary as much as 100 points.

Different information on file. The information available to the credit rating agencies may vary slightly. One of your creditors may report to only two of the bureaus, while another creditor reports to only one bureau, and still others report to all three. This difference arises mainly from differences in the computer systems different lenders use to electronically report credit history data to the credit rating agencies. You may also have a mistake on one report, which is not on another, or a bad mark could be removed on one credit report, but not on another. These are all reasons why the information on file about your credit history may vary between agencies, creating variance among credit scores.

Credit Score Estimates. In many cases, the credit score available to consumers are estimates, not the real numbers. This can also be a source of variance.

Should you be worried that a lender might pull the report with the lowest score and get a less favorable picture of you? Not too much. The difference could arise because the number you receive is an estimate. More importantly, for big loan decisions like a mortgage, lenders generally pull all three reports and use the average of the three scores.

Still, there are steps you can take to bring your scores more in line. Firstly, get a copy of all your three credit reports. Then compare the three carefully, first to see if all the information is accurate, and secondly to see if each report carries your complete information. If you find inaccuracies or omissions, file a dispute with the credit rating bureau asking them to correct it. You can do this online or by sending a letter. Be sure to report mistakes that appear on all three credit reports to all three credit agencies, otherwise the changes will just show up with the one agency with which you file the dispute.

Correcting mistakes or inaccuracies on your credit report is worth your while, because it could well improve your credit score as well. Once you have filed the dispute, follow up after three months to see if the mistake has been corrected.

You’re entitled to a free credit report once a year from all three credit rating agencies, and these can be downloaded directly at Annualcreditreport.com. You will have to pay a fee if you want to get your credit score too. You can also get a free credit report if you have been denied credit within the last 60 days, by calling the credit rating rating agency whose report the decision was based on.