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Will the real FICO score please stand up?

Each major credit bureau has its own system.

By Karen Datko Oct 5, 2009 2:01AM

This post comes from partner blog The Dough Roller.

Earlier this week we took a look at how to get your free FICO credit score from Operated by the Fair Isaac Corp., creator of the FICO credit score, it offers consumers a free credit report and FICO credit score when they sign up for a 30-day trial of Score Watch. The FICO credit score provides is from Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus.

And that's where some confusion can creep in.

There are three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. And each of these credit bureaus calculates a consumer's FICO credit score, which can be and usually is different for each credit bureau. In other words, you likely have a different FICO credit score from each of the three major credit bureaus. And to add to the confusion, each of the credit bureaus calls its version of the FICO credit score by a different name.

So let's quickly sort all this out:

  • FICO credit score. FICO stands for the Fair Isaac Corp., the company that created the formula for the FICO credit score. Fair Isaac was founded in 1956 by engineer Bill Fair and mathematician Earl Isaac.
  • Fair Isaac does not calculate credit scores. While Fair Isaac created the FICO formula, it does not actually use it to calculate a consumer's FICO credit score. To use the formula, one needs credit information about the consumer, and that's where the credit bureaus come in.
  • Three credit bureaus. The three major credit bureaus in the United States use the FICO credit score formula to calculate a consumer's FICO credit score.
  • Three different scores. Because each of the three major credit bureaus has slightly different information on each consumer, the FICO credit score it calculates is usually different from the others. As a result, most consumers have three different FICO credit scores.
  • Three scores and three names. Each of the three credit bureaus has branded its FICO credit score with a different name. Equifax calls its score the Beacon score; Experian calls its score the Experian/Fair Isaac Risk Model or Score Power; and TransUnion calls its version of the FICO credit score Empirica.
  • VantageScore: You may have heard of VantageScore, which is a credit score formulation created in 2006 by the three credit bureaus in an effort to compete with the official FICO credit score. VantageScore has not been widely adopted by lenders and creditors.

Clear as mud, right? Now, how do you get your credit scores? As you may know, consumers can get a free copy of their credit reports from But if you want your FICO credit score, is the place to go, while offers its own version of a credit score. Here are the details:

  • is run by Fair Isaac and offers consumers a credit-monitoring service called Score Watch. When you sign up for a free 30-day trial of Score Watch, gives you a free copy of your credit report and FICO credit score as reported by Equifax. You can also purchase from your credit report and FICO credit score as reported by TransUnion for $15.95.
  • Known for its snappy commercials, is run by Experian. It offers a credit-monitoring service called Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring. In exchange for signing up for a seven-day free trial, you'll receive a copy of your Experian credit report and a credit score from Experian that is not a FICO score.  

Related reading at The Dough Roller:

Published July 24, 2009
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