When you think credit score, you probably think FICO. Since the Fair Isaac Corporation introduced its FICO scoring system in 1989, “What is my FICO score?” has become a common question. FICO scores have burrowed their way into all kinds of lending decisions, most notably mortgages, credit cards, and rentals.
But over the last decade or so, FICO’s market dominance has been challenged by a newcomer called VantageScore. As the result of a collaboration between the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs)—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—VantageScore uses similar scoring methods to FICO but with slightly different results.
So what are the differences, and more importantly, do they really matter to you, the consumer? The short answer: usually no. But you might want to look at different scores for different needs or goals.
In this article, we’ll cover the five main differences between FICO and VantageScore and tell you which one to watch.
1. Difference in Scoring Models
FICO and VantageScore aren’t the only scoring models on the market. Lenders use a multitude of scoring methods to determine your creditworthiness and make financial decisions. But despite the numerous options, FICO and VantageScore are likely the only scores you’ll ever personally see.
How do FICO and VantageScore rate you? Both use the same basic criteria:
- Payment history
- Length of credit
- Types of credit
- Credit usage
- Recent inquiries
Although both FICO and VantageScore consider much of the same information, they gather their data in different ways.
FICO bases its scoring model on credit reports from millions of consumers at once. They gather these reports from the three major credit bureaus and analyze the reports’ anonymous consumer data to generate an accurate scoring model.
Alternatively, VantageScore uses a combined set of consumer credit files, also obtained from those same three credit bureaus, to come up with a single formula.
Both FICO and VantageScore issue scores ranging from 300 to 850. In the past, VantageScore has used a range of 501 to 990, but the range was adjusted when VantageScore 3.0 was issued in 2013. VantageScore’s numerical rankings now match FICO’s, which makes it easier for consumers and lenders to implement the VantageScore model—plus, it’s less confusing for consumers who check both their FICO score and VantageScore.
2. Variance in Scoring Requirements
If you don’t have a long history of credit, VantageScore is the score you want to monitor. Before it’s able to establish your credit score, FICO requires at least six months of credit history and at least one account reported to a CRA within the last six months. VantageScore only requires one month of history and one account reported within the past two years.
Because VantageScore allows a shorter credit history and a long period for reported accounts, it’s able to issue credit ratings to millions of consumers who wouldn’t qualify for FICO scores. Considering how everyone from employers to landlords want to see your credit score these days, if you’re new to credit or haven’t been using it recently, VantageScore might be able to prove your trustworthiness before FICO has enough data to issue a rating.
3. Significance of Late Payments
A history of late payments will impact both your FICO score and your VantageScore. Both models consider these factors:
- How recently the last late payment occurred
- How many of your accounts have had late payments
- How many payments you’ve missed on an account
However, while FICO treats all late payments the same, VantageScore judges them differently—it penalizes late mortgage payments more harshly than other types of credit.
If you’ve had late payments on your credit cards, they will have about the same impact on both your FICO and your VantageScore. But if you’ve had late payments on your mortgage, you might find you have a higher FICO score than VantageScore.
4. Impact of Credit Inquiries
You’ve probably heard you shouldn’t open too many credit cards in a short period of time. One reason for this is every time you apply for a credit card, the lender does a “hard inquiry” to check your creditworthiness.
VantageScore and FICO both penalize consumers who have multiple hard inquiries in a short period of time, and they both do “deduplication.” Deduplication is important for things like auto loans, where your application may be sent to multiple lenders, thereby resulting in multiple inquiries. Both FICO and VantageScore don’t count each of these inquiries separately—they deduplicate them, or consider them one inquiry. However, the timespan they use for deduplication differs.
FICO uses a 45-day span to deduplicate your credit inquiries. VantageScore limits its focus to only a 14-day range. VantageScore also looks at multiple hard inquiries for all types of credit, including credit cards. FICO considers only mortgages, auto loans, and student loans.
Inquiries aren’t your biggest concern when it comes to your credit score, but they do have an impact. If you want to buy a house or a car, restrict hard inquiries as much as possible to avoid lowering your credit score.
5. Influence of Low-Balance Collections
VantageScore and FICO both have penalties for accounts sent to collection agencies. However, FICO might give you a bit more of a break when it comes to low-amount collection accounts.
FICO ignores all collections where the original balance was under $100. It also doesn’t count collection accounts you’ve paid off. VantageScore, on the other hand, ignores only paid collection accounts, regardless of the original balance amount.
Keep Your Credit High
Regardless of the differences between FICO and VantageScore, the essential advice for keeping your credit score high remains the same:
- Avoid late payments. Pay your bills, and pay them on time.
- Keep your credit balances low. Don’t max out your credit cards, and try to keep your cumulative balance to less than 30%—the lower the better.
- Apply for new credit only when you have to. Don’t open a bunch of new cards in a short period of time, and don’t close old accounts without good reason.
Check Your VantageScore Monthly
You can get a free VantageScore 3.0 credit score, updated monthly, from Credit.com. You can also see how your score compares to others and get a custom action plan for your credit. Remember, every point counts when it comes to getting the best interest rates and lending terms.