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FICO Score vs. Credit Score: What's the Difference?

A FICO score is just one example of a credit score lenders use to assess credit risk.

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The terms credit score and FICO score are often used interchangeably: They both refer to a three-digit number that measures a person's creditworthiness. FICO is just one credit scoring model, but there are other models -- like VantageScore -- that use various metrics to gauge the likelihood that you will repay debts. 

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a measure of your financial history generated by the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It is used to indicate a person's financial reliability based on data from their credit report. A higher credit score suggests that you pay back what you borrow on time, while a low credit score may indicate difficulty managing your debt. 

What is a FICO score?

FICO is a credit scoring model that uses set metrics to measure a person's credit score. While some lenders may solely use FICO, it may also only be a fraction of a lender's decision to extend a line of credit. In some cases, a lender may not use FICO at all.

How are FICO scores calculated?

A FICO score is developed using the following five categories: 

Payment history (35%): Payment history is the most influential factor in your FICO score and weighs whether or not you pay your bills on time. Lenders look at this information to gauge if you are a trustworthy borrower. 

Amounts owed (30%): Amounts owed -- or credit utilization -- is the ratio of your total credit to your total debt. A high credit utilization signals lenders that you may have more consumer credit than you can afford to pay back. 

Length of credit history (15%): The average age of your credit lines helps lenders determine the relationship you've built with your creditors. A lengthy credit history shows lenders you are capable of managing your credit responsibly.

New credit (10%): Every time you apply for a new line of credit, a hard inquiry is made into your credit history. Too many hard inquiries in a short period can make you a high credit risk to lenders. 

Credit mix (10%): A diverse mix of revolving credit accounts, retail accounts and installment loans shows lenders you can manage more than one type of credit account. 

What is the standard credit score range?

Most credit rating scores range from 300 to 850. FICO, for example, breaks its score range into the following five categories:

FICO score ranges

Score Category
300-579 Poor
580-669 Fair
670-739 Good
740-799 Very good
800-850 Excellent

What does a credit score mean to a lender?

Lenders rely on credit scores to determine how much risk is involved in extending a line of credit. If you have a low credit score, lenders are less inclined to approve you for loans or lines of credit, while a borrower with a good credit score is more likely to have access to the best rates and loan terms

The bottom line

FICO scores and credit scores refer to the same thing, with FICO Scores being the most commonly used and accepted by 90% of major lenders. Overall, credit scores are designed to make the loan-granting process more consistent for people while accurately forecasting credit risk.

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