Much hoopla was made last week about FICO’s new Open Access program whereby FNBO, Barclays Card and Discover “It” customers will now receive their FICO credit scores on their statements, for free.
The question many consumers will eventually have is why are the scores they’re seeing on their credit card statements different than the other free credit scores that are already being given away at other websites?
First, a little about FICO’s Open Access program. Despite what you may read, this isn’t FICO’s first stab at distributing FICO scores via credit card issuers.
Many years ago the company had a similar program called Scores On Statements that similarly allowed credit card issuers to re-use FICO scores they already purchased and give them to their cardholders via their statements.
Providian Bank (remember them) was the crowned jewel of that old program.
Every month many, if not most, credit card issuers buy FICO scores from the credit bureaus on their existing cardholders. They do this as part of their risk mitigation practices.
If your score is now much lower than it was in prior months the card issuer may lower your limit or shut down your card.
The credit card issuer pays the credit bureau for the scores and FICO gets a small piece of the action, called a “royalty.”
Because the credit card issuer already has FICO scores on their cardholders, it’s not terribly difficult for the issuer to simply disclose the score to their cardholder customers as a benefit of having an account with them.
This secondary use is the Open Access program.
And while these free FICO scores will be the first freebie FICOs available to consumers since the Scores On Statements program went away, other free credit scores have been available for quite some time.
There are two scores of note that have been given away for years: the Experian National Risk Score and the VantageScore credit score.
The Experian National Risk Score is available for free via the website CreditSesame.com.
It is, in fact, a real credit score and not one of the so-called “educational” credit scores. It’s sold to and used by lenders, is scaled from ~300 to 850 and considers information on your Experian credit report.
The VantageScore credit score is available for free via Credit.com. It is, in fact, a real credit score that is sold to lenders and is now scaled from 300 to 850.
That’s good news because 300 to 850, while it seems odd outside of the credit-scoring world, is well established as the standard credit score range.
The VantageScore credit score is more commonly used than the Experian National Risk Score. According to Experian some 1,300 of their clients are utilizing VantageScore.
So, what happens if you get one of these free FICO scores and also one of the free VantageScore credit scores? Will they be the same? And if they aren’t the same, what will the difference be?
Can they be considerably different? Is the difference meaningful?
One at a time please…
Will they be the same?
If they are the same it will be dumb luck. FICO scores and VantageScore credit scores are built by two completely separate companies and they don’t collaborate on the development.
And while everyone and their brother knows what’s important to consider from a credit report there’s no question that the two companies do things differently.
VantageScore doesn’t consider paid collections, FICO does.
FICO has several semi-customized versions of their scores for bankcard, auto, mortgage, personal finance and installment lending, VantageScore does not.
While the scores won’t be identical, they’ll be directionally similar if they’re based on the same credit report data, meaning if you have a good Experian credit report then you’re going to have a good credit score based on Experian data regardless of whether it’s a FICO, VantageScore, or Experian National Risk Score.
Can they be considerably different?
Yes, they can be extremely different. But, that’s not an issue with the credit scoring model but more so an issue with the credit report data.
If you have a perfectly clean Experian credit report, then you’re probably going to have a great score regardless of the score type.
But, if you have a clean Experian report and an Equifax credit report with 2 collections then your scores are likely going to be wildly different across those two credit bureaus.
Is the difference meaningful?
Not to you, but it could be to lenders. Some lenders are getting both FICO and VantageScore credit scores.
I know this because just last week I saw a credit report pulled by a mega credit card issuer that had both a FICO and a VantageScore credit score delivered with it.
The difference in scores was considerable yet both scores indicated the consumer was of elevated credit risk.
It’s only when scores transcend “good” and “bad” that it can become a huge problem for consumers.
NOTE: When I refer to “free” credit scores I actually mean free. You won’t need a credit card or any method of payment to claim the scores.
But be careful when you’re typing their URL. If you mistype you’ll end up at a squatter site that tries to sell you something.
John Ulzheimer is the Credit Expert at CreditSesame.com, and a credit blogger at SmartCredit.com, Mint.com, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. You can follow John on Twitter here.