Different FICO credit scores are just the beginning. Adding to the confusion are “educational” credit scores that Experian and Trans Union offer to consumers through their web sites and through hundreds of affiliated companies.
If you’ve visited the web site for Experian or Trans Union, you probably found it hard to JUST order your credit report. On both sites, it takes some real investigative work to figure out how you can avoid ordering a credit score or credit monitoring service with your credit report.
But, you’re probably asking, is that a bad thing? After all, we said that credit scores are more important than credit reports, right? Well, yes, that’s true. But, you need the RIGHT credit scores. And the credit scores that Experian and Trans Union are pushing on their web sites are NOT the credit scores that they provide to third parties.
Experian’s PLUS Score
On their web site, Experian offers the “PLUS Score.” The PLUS Score is a proprietary score developed by Experian, and featured prominently in its web site. You really have to dig in the Experian web site to find out that the PLUS score is really an “educational” score. In its web site, Experian says that “the PLUS score is derived from information based on a credit report, using a similar formula to those used by lenders.” Did you get that? The PLUS Score is a “similar” formula to those used by lenders. So, bottom line, it’s NOT the score that lenders use.
It’s supposed to be “easier to understand” than other credit scores (the FICO scores) and allows consumers to “see how changes to their credit habits can directly influence their credit rating.” So again, it’s not the score that creditors use in granting you credit. It’s an educational tool to allow you to see how changes to your credit “habits” can affect your credit score. So, for “educational” purposes, the PLUS Score is OK.
Trans Union’s TrueCredit Score
Like Experian, Trans Union has its own proprietary credit score that it offers on its web site – the TrueCredit score. And, like the PLUS Score, you have to dig deep to find an explanation that the TrueCredit score is not a FICO score. In its web site, Trans Union says “TrueCredit is not connected in any way with Fair Isaac Company; the credit score provided here is not a so-called FICO score. The credit scores of Trans Union may not be identical in every respect to any consumer credit scores produced by any other company.” So, the TrueCredit score is another “educational” score that is NOT used by creditors in evaluating you for credit.
So What’s the Problem with the PLUS Score and the TrueCredit Score?
What’s wrong with looking at the PLUS Score and the TrueCredit score? After all, they’re educational, right? Well, yes, but…. If you want to spend your money, then go ahead. But, if you really want to see the scores that your lenders are going to see, then you need to stick with the FICO scores.
Your lender will never see your PLUS Score or your TrueCredit score. In our experience, these scores are almost always considerably higher than the FICO scores based on the Experian and TransUnion credit information – the Experian/Fair Isaac and the FICO Risk Score, Classic. We’ve seen differences of more than 50 points between these “educational” credit scores and the FICO scores.
(This usually comes up when a borrower starts complaining that the scores they got online were much higher than the scores received by a mortgage broker who pulled their credit. They usually think that the mortgage broker is trying to trick them in order to justify a higher rate. Although we have no doubt that this happens, generally the difference in scores is really the difference between the FICO scores and the educational scores.)
So, bottom line – make sure that you review and work on improving your FICO scores. It MAY help to pull the PLUS Score and TrueCredit Score and play with the simulators that Trans Union and Experian offer with these scores. But, to REALLY improve the credit scores that your lenders will use, you need to understand the FICO scoring system.