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FICO vs. Credit Score: Differences and Similarities You Need To Know

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Jessica Merritt
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Jessica Merritt

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A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
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You may not realize that you have multiple credit scores — your FICO score is just one of them. 

People often consider FICO scores and credit scores to be the same thing. When we say “credit score,” we often mean FICO score because it’s the most commonly used credit score, but FICO scores and credit scores aren’t exactly interchangeable. 

While FICO scores are a type of credit score — and the credit score used most often — your FICO score isn’t the only credit score you have. And when you check your credit score, you may not see your FICO score.

There are many versions of your credit score, including your VantageScore and FICO credit scores. You should pay attention to all of them.

What Is a Credit Score?

Your credit score is a general term for any score that assesses your creditworthiness. Credit scores, including FICO and VantageScore, are often similar, as these scores are calculated in a similar fashion. However, these credit scores are generally not identical as they use different models and consider slightly different factors to generate your credit score.

Whether a FICO score or another credit score, your credit scores are used to evaluate your creditworthiness for lending decisions. Credit scores are based on your credit history, which generally includes your payment history, credit utilization, types of credit, and the length of your credit history. 

If you’re applying for credit, such as getting a new credit card, you should check your credit scores, including your FICO credit score.

What Is a FICO Credit Score?

FICO credit score factors
Your FICO score considers major factors including payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit, and your credit mix. Image Credit: FICO

A FICO credit score is one of your credit scores developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO). FICO was the first company to ever create a credit score, launching it in 1989. The FICO score is now the most commonly used credit score.

FICO scores range from 300 to 850; the higher, the better. Anything 670 or higher is considered good on the FICO scale, though the U.S. average credit score is 716.

See FICO’s credit score ranges:

SCROLL FOR MORE
Credit Score RangeCredit Score Rating
<580Poor
580 to 669Fair
670 to 739Good
740 to 799Very Good
800+Exceptional

Your FICO score is calculated based on factors including your payment history, amount of credit used, types of credit, recent credit applications, and the length of your credit history.

Lenders use your FICO score — and other credit scores — to determine how likely you are to pay your bills on time and make good on your financial commitments. FICO scores are used by lenders for many types of products, including credit cards and loans. 

Generally, the higher your FICO score, the better the credit terms you can qualify for, and the more likely you will be approved for a product and get the lowest interest rates. 

Consumers with low FICO credit scores may struggle with getting approved for loans or credit cards and may have to pay higher interest rates.

Why Do Credit Scores Matter?

Your FICO score and other credit scores are important when you need to access credit, such as when you want to open a new credit card or get a mortgage. When you apply for credit, the lender will check your credit score — FICO or otherwise — to assess how risky of a borrower you are. 

Credit scores make it easy for lenders to make quick decisions on creditworthiness. Generally, the higher your FICO or another credit score, the easier it is for you to get approved for credit and get the best terms on credit products, such as a low-interest loan or the best rewards credit cards.

You can improve your credit scores, including your FICO score, by avoiding late payments, keeping old accounts open, maintaining low balances on revolving credit accounts such as credit cards, and checking your credit report frequently for errors.

Hot Tip: Late payments can be a significant flaw in your credit report and decrease your credit score. A single late payment can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years.

What Is a FICO Score vs. a Credit Score?

Poor Credit Score Report
You might have a poor credit score on 1 scoring model and a different rating on another, though credit scores are generally similar across scoring models. Image Credit: Casper1774 Studio via Shutterstock

While a FICO score is a type of credit score developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation, it is a specific, frequently used scoring model lenders use to determine your creditworthiness. 

The FICO score uses an algorithm to calculate your score, ranging from 300 to 850, based on factors including payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, types of credit used, and new credit accounts. Higher scores indicate better creditworthiness.

Other credit scores use scoring models that differ from the FICO scoring model, though they may be similar. Credit scores may also differ in credit ranges.

Another major difference is how long it takes to generate a credit score. While FICO needs at least 6 months of data before it can generate a credit score, you just need a month of data — such as a full payment cycle on a new credit card — to generate a VantageScore credit score.

All credit scores, whether FICO or another, are measures of your creditworthiness and influence your ability to access credit with the best rates and terms.

Hot Tip: If you just want to focus on a single credit score, improving your FICO score will have the most wide-reaching impact as it is the most widely used credit score. But any measures you take to improve your FICO score will likely improve your other credit scores, too.

Why Is My FICO Score Different From My Credit Score?

Credit scores
The difference in your credit scores shouldn’t be this vast. Check for errors if scores are significantly different from one score to the next. Image Credit: Axel via Shutterstock

Don’t be surprised or concerned if your FICO score and other credit scores don’t match.

Your FICO score may be different than your other credit scores, such as VantageScore, because each credit scoring model uses an independent algorithm and scoring range. Your credit score may also vary depending on:

  • Which credit bureaus the report gets your financial data from
  • When credit scoring information was reported and calculated into your score
  • Varying credit score factors

Your FICO score may be higher or lower than another credit score. However, credit scores, including your FICO score, are typically not vastly different. If that’s the case, investigate why any credit score is significantly higher or lower than others because you may need to correct an error.

Final Thoughts

Your FICO score is a credit score, but not your only credit score. Monitor your FICO score and other credit scores to keep track of your creditworthiness. The higher your credit scores — including your FICO score — the better your credit opportunities will be.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many FICO scores are there?

There are many FICO score models. Each has a unique purpose or serves a particular industry. Common FICO scores, including FICO Score 8, 9, and 10 are the latest consumer credit scoring models FICO uses today. 

Each of these FICO scoring models has a range of 300 to 850 and uses a unique algorithm to generate a credit score based on information from the 3 major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion

FICO also has an auto score and a bankcard score. Your general FICO score is used for mortgage lending, though lenders typically use older scoring models, including FICO Score 2, 4, and 5.

Is the FICO score the same as a credit score?

Your FICO score is a type of credit score, but not all credit scores are FICO scores. A FICO score is a type of credit score widely used by lenders to assess your creditworthiness. Other types of credit scores include VantageScore, which is also a commonly used credit score. 

Do lenders use your FICO score or credit score?

The credit score used depends on the lender, as lenders may use FICO scores and other scores to assess your creditworthiness. The score used also depends on the type of credit you’re applying for, such as a credit card or auto loan.

What's the difference between FICO vs. Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion credit scores?

FICO and Experian both provide credit rating services, but FICO generates credit scores while Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are major credit bureaus that provide credit reporting data. Your FICO score is based on credit reporting data from these 3 major credit bureaus.

FICO score vs. credit rating: are they the same?

FICO credit scores put a number on your creditworthiness, and so do credit ratings, also known as credit scores. Your FICO score is a type of credit rating, but not all credit ratings are FICO scores.

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About Jessica Merritt

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little cash as possible.

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