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

Last Updated: March 8, 2024
4 min read

Key points about: How do FICO® credit scores differ from 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 90% of top lenders use FICO® Credit Scores.1

  3. There are different versions of FICO® Credit Scores finetuned for different credit products, like home and car loans.

Whether you’d like to buy a house or apply for a credit card, your credit score may impact your borrowing options. But what exactly does that three-digit number mean, and what sets FICO® Scores apart from other credit scores? 
According to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a 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 may use your credit score to understand how likely you are to repay your credit. According to the CFPB, a higher credit score may qualify you for a higher credit limit and better interest rates.

See if you’re pre-approved

With no harm to your credit score*

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). A lender may even have their own credit scoring model. 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?

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), credit scores get 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 are based on the consumer reporting agencies’ credit report data, sometimes resulting in different credit scores.

The FDIC goes on to state that credit scores can also differ based on which credit bureau a particular scoring model pulls data. 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. According to FICO’s website, 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 score 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 (based on information from their website):

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.

Your total amounts owed equal the sum of the balances of your credit accounts. Keeping your balances low can help a good credit score.

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. If you’re new to credit, a secured credit card can help you build credit with responsible use.2

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.

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 claim to offer free credit scores. However, those credit scores sometimes differ from the ones lenders use to qualify you for credit.

While you can’t be sure of every lender’s preference, most major creditors look to FICO® Scores to determine eligibility for credit. In fact, 90% of top lenders use FICO® Credit Scores.1 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, get a free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Score and more.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 influence 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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  1. FICO® Credit Score Terms: Your FICO® Credit Score, key factors and other credit information are based on data from TransUnion® and may be different from other credit scores and other credit information provided by different bureaus. This information is intended for and only provided to Primary account holders who have an available score. See Discover.com/FICO about the availability of your score. Your score, key factors and other credit information are available on Discover.com. Customers will see up to a year of recent scores online. Discover and other lenders may use different inputs, such as FICO® Credit Scores, other credit scores and more information in credit decisions. This benefit may change or end in the future. FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

  2. Build credit with responsible use: Discover reports your credit history to the three major credit bureaus so it can help build/rebuild your credit if used responsibly. Late payments, delinquencies or other derogatory activity with your credit card accounts and loans may adversely impact your ability to build/rebuild credit.
  3. *Card: No Credit Impact for Pre-Approval: There is no hard inquiry to your credit report to check if you’re pre-approved. If you’re pre-approved, and you move forward with submitting an application for the credit card, it will result in a hard inquiry which may impact your credit score. Receiving a pre-approval offer does not guarantee approval. Applicants applying without a social security number are not eligible to receive pre-approval offers. Card applicants cannot be pre-approved for the NHL Discover Card.
  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.