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What is a FICO® Score vs. a Credit Score?

Published February 24, 2023
4 min read

Key points about: how FICO® credit scores are different than other credit scores

  1. FICO® Scores are a type of credit score, but not all credit scores are FICO® Scores.

  2. Checking your FICO® Score may be more beneficial, as most top lenders use FICO® Scores over other credit scores.

  3. There are sixteen industry-specific versions of your FICO® Credit Score finetuned for different credit products, like home and car loans.

Whether you’d like to buy a house or apply for a cash back credit card, your credit score can significantly influence your borrowing options. But what exactly does that three-digit number mean, and what sets FICO® Scores apart? 
Your credit score is a number (generally from 300 to 850) that quantifies the borrowing and repayment history documented in your credit report. Credit scores range from poor to exceptional, and they change over time. A lender uses your credit score to understand how likely you are to repay your credit. A higher credit score may qualify you for a higher credit limit and better interest rates.

FICO® Score is a brand of credit score generated by a specialized scoring model developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. But not all credit scores are FICO® Scores. You can have many slightly different credit scores from various credit modeling agencies (companies that create mathematical algorithms to calculate a specific brand of credit score). Some lenders even develop their own scoring models. However, FICO® Scores are the most widely used scores; 90% of top lenders use FICO® Credit Scores, including Discover.1

How are FICO® credit scores calculated vs. other credit scores?

A credit score gets calculated using a credit scoring model, which utilizes a mathematical algorithm to transform the information from a credit report into a credit score. The credit scoring models used to calculate your credit scores can vary between credit modeling agencies, sometimes resulting in different credit scores.

Credit scores can also differ based on which credit bureau a particular scoring model pulls data from. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three major credit bureaus (or reporting agencies) that combine your financial records (provided by your lenders) into your credit reports. Lenders don’t always report to all three credit bureaus, and reporting agencies may interpret the data they receive differently. That means your credit report from each credit bureau can vary. FICO provides unique scores based on reports from the three major credit bureaus. 

Similar (but not always the same) to other credit scores, FICO® Scores fall within five ranges based on how good you are with credit: Exceptional (800 and over), Very Good (740 to 799), Good (670 to 739), Fair (580-669), and Poor (below 580). 

What information gets included in your credit score vs. FICO® Score?

While some credit scoring models may differ, they typically incorporate the same or very similar categories of financial information. Each category weighs on your score with a percentage that may vary slightly based on the scoring agency. FICO uses the following factors to determine credit scores:

Payment history (35%): Your payment history includes timely, late, and missed payments across your credit accounts. Making payments on time consistently can help stay on top of your credit score.  

Amounts owed (30%): Your total amounts owed equals the sum of the balances of your credit accounts. Keeping your balances low can help a good credit score.

Length of credit history (15%): The length of your credit history represents how long you’ve had your oldest open credit account. A longer record may instill more confidence in lenders than a shorter history, because it shows you have more significant experience managing credit.

New credit (10%): This category represents your new credit inquiries or accounts. Several credit applications in a short timeframe could make you appear too eager for credit and mark you as a credit risk.   

Credit mix (10%): Your credit mix refers to the different types of credit accounts you have, like a mortgage, credit cards, and other loans. A diverse credit mix shows you can manage various kinds of financial responsibilities.

Which credit score do lenders use?

Many companies offer consumers a look at their credit scores. However, those credit scores sometimes differ from the ones lenders use to qualify you for credit.

Did you know?

While you can’t be sure of every lender’s preference, most major creditors look to FICO® Scores to determine eligibility for credit. One reason is that creditors can access versions of your FICO® Score geared specifically toward their products. For example, a lender may look at a specific score for an auto loan and another for a mortgage. In fact, you can have many FICO® Scores.

Because so many financial institutions use FICO® Scores, it can pay to know yours. As a Discover cardmember, you get a free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score and important information behind it.1

Your credit score impacts your borrowing options, from interest rates to loan amounts. Checking your credit score, especially your FICO® Score, can help you avoid surprises when securing a loan, or let you know you need to understand your score before applying for credit. Understanding the difference between your FICO® Score and other credit scores can help you identify the scores you’re checking and understand why you might have a different credit score from different sources.

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