Websites and apps that provide your credit score for free are helpful tools that enable you to better monitor and manage your credit. These services enable you to track changes in your credit score and resolve potential credit issues sooner. Although the information provided by these apps is valuable, you may not realize that the credit scores they provide are different than the scores used by some lenders when you apply for a loan such as a mortgage.
Most free credit score websites and apps use what is called the VantageScore model to pull your score. The VantageScore model is similar to but different and potentially less precise than the FICO credit score model used by banks when you apply for a mortgage.
The scores provide by the free sites are sometimes called "educational scores" because they provide one version of your credit score rather than your specific FICO score, although the two versions should be directionally similar. If you have a high VantageScore then you likely have a high FICO score and vice versa.
While the VantageScore and FICO score may be the same for some people, there may also be differences in scores for many people. While both services use the same guiding principals -- pay your bills on time and properly manage your credit -- they use different methodologies to calculate your scores, which can result in discrepancies. In general, when differences exist, the VantageScore tends to be higher than your FICO score and differences can range between 30 and 50 points.
The possible difference between the two scores is important to understand and potentially costly in some cases. If a lender uses a lower credit score when you apply for a mortgage, you may be required to pay a higher interest rate or you may not be eligible for certain loan programs, depending on your individual situation.
The table below shows mortgage rates and fees for leading lenders. We recommend you shop multiple lenders to find the best loan terms.
This does not mean that the scores provided by the free websites and apps are inaccurate or unhelpful but you should keep in mind that they provide a more directional assessment of your credit profile. In fact, we frequently recommend that borrowers use these services because they allow you to monitor your scores for free without hurting your credit score, which is a valuable offering. In most cases, the more information you have about your credit profile, the better you are able to manage it and the higher your score.
In addition to the difference between your VantageScore and FICO scores, your credit score may also vary across the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These differences could be attributable to the bureaus accessing inconsistent account information or using different scoring methodologies.
For example, I have an old debt that appears on my credit report for one of the credit bureaus but not the other two, so my score for that bureau is different . That is why it is important that borrowers review their credit report and scores for all three bureaus before they apply for a mortgage or other loan.
Review Credit Score Required for a Mortgage
You can review your credit report for each bureau for free at least once a year. You may be eligible for additional free reports if you meet certain requirements such as if you have been denied credit, insurance or employment due to a credit issue or if you experienced identity theft.
Reviewing your credit report should provide you with more detailed information on your credit profile and better position you to take steps to improve your credit score. For example, you may have an account in collection or late payment that appears on one of the reports credit report that you are not aware of.
Moving ahead to when you apply for your mortgage, it is important to understand that lenders usually pull your FICO score for all three credit bureaus and typically use the middle score to determine your loan terms including your mortgage rate. Additionally, if you are applying for a mortgage with a co-borrower, lenders typically use the lower score between the borrowers.
Review How to Improve Your Credit Score Before You Apply for a Mortgage
If you plan to apply for a mortgage within the next year, I recommend that you continue to use the free services to track your progress while also reviewing your credit report. Taking these steps combined with making sound financial decisions should position you to qualify for a mortgage in the future.
We also recommend that you get pre-approved for your mortgage before you apply for the loan. Getting pre-approved enables you proactively identify and address potential issues, move with certainty when you shop for a home and compare loan terms. Our mortgage pre-approval form below is free, no obligation and does not affect your credit.
“How do I get a copy of my credit reports?” CFPB. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, March 29 2019. Web.