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You might expect all of your credit reports and scores to be the same, but they are usually not. Score differences are very common and are usually the result of small variations of when information is reported and how it is weighted.
Even large deviations between credit scores from different agencies can arise. This large gap between credit scores is most often caused by differences in scoring models or what information is displayed in each report and when. But other factors come into play as well.
Why Your Credit Scores Differ Between Credit Bureaus
Each individual in the US has multiple credit scores, not just one. This is because there are 3 credit bureaus and dozens of different scoring models.
Differences in which report is pulled, which scoring model is used, and what information is reported to whom and when, can all have an impact on the credit score you are viewing.
Because of this, even minor alterations in what information is reported to each different credit bureau and when can cause you to have one good credit score and one poor credit score.
And there are other factors that can influence scores as well. Below is a list of 4 of the most common reasons for a big gap between credit scores.
Reason 1 – Error On One of the Credit Bureau Reports
While small differences in credit scores between bureaus are usually the cause of differences in how and when information is reported, a large difference between credit scores can be a red flag that something is wrong with one of your credit reports.
An error, even a small one, could wreak havoc on your credit score. For instance, if you have a credit card with a $1000 credit limit reporting as a $100 credit limit, this could cause a big hit to your credit utilization ratio.
Or, if you have an account that is incorrectly reporting a late payment, then this will cause a huge hit to the payment history portion of your score.
Errors can be caused by the creditor or bank submitting your account information, or by those at the credit reporting agency that are entering in the information. Considering this, you’ll want to contact both the credit bureau and the creditor when attempting to fix the error.
Errors can even cause an increase in your credit score. For instance, I once had a student loan that was being reported twice, making it seem like I had a higher number of credit lines and longer credit history than I actually did.
Even errors that are in your favor should be investigated and fixed because they could be a sign of fraud or possible identity theft. This is why credit monitoring is so important.
Reason 2 – Not Every Account Gets Reported to Every Credit Bureau
There are three major credit bureaus and each has a different set of requirements and fees charged for reporting. Because of this, not all lenders, banks, and collection account agencies report to all three.
Often, they may only report to one or two credit bureaus. This means that positive or negative account information could only be affecting one or two of your credit reports and scores instead of all three.
This is why it is important to check the terms on any new credit line or other credit-building tool or service to see which credit bureaus they report to.
You can try contacting the creditor or service to see if they are willing and able to report to all three credit bureaus, but it is unlikely that they will be able to meet your request.
Even if they don’t report to all three credit bureaus, there may be 3rd party services that can help get this information reported to the missing credit bureaus.
Reason 3 – Delay in the Posting of Credit Account Updates
Credit reporting is not instantaneous. It takes time for the creditor to gather up all of the necessary information (payments, credit limit, etc.) on your account and send it to the credit bureaus.
It then takes time for these credit reporting agencies to add the information to your credit report.
You may check your credit reports to find that your recently paid-off loan is only reporting closed on one or two of your credit reports instead of all three.
Or perhaps you opened a new credit card a month ago and the new credit card account is still not appearing on all of your credit reports.
While this can be frustrating and confusing, there is not much you can do. The fact that your updated credit line information is appearing correctly on at least one credit report means that your creditor is sending out the correct information.
You just need to give it time to appear on all three. You can check with your creditor as well as the credit bureaus to verify when information is reported and how long it usually takes to appear.
What you don’t want to do is file a dispute on your credit report just because one reporting agency takes 48 hours longer to update your payment history.
Reason 4 – You Might Be Comparing Different Credit Scoring Models
Another confusing aspect that greatly affects your credit score is the credit scoring model that you are looking at.
The FICO credit score is the most well-known credit score, but depending on which year model you are looking at, your score could be different.
For instance, FICO 9 came out in 2014 and gave medical-related debt less weight while the previous model, FICO 8, weighed medical bills higher and put more emphasis on penalizing people for high credit utilization.
Another common scoring model, one that you especially see if you are checking your credit score directly with the credit reporting agencies or when getting a free credit score from your credit card company, is your VantageScore.
The Vantage scoring model puts a greater emphasis on payment history and credit makeup (credit mix + length of credit history), with credit utilization and new credit being lesser factors.
In addition to FICO and Vantage scoring models, there are also a series of industry-specific scoring models, such as those used for auto loans. These models not only weigh information differently, but they also have a different credit score range; 250 – 900 instead of 300 – 800.
It is important to read the fine print on whatever webpage, service, etc. that you are using to view your credit score in order to determine which scoring model they are using to ensure that you are comparing scores that are using the same model.
How to Fix Your Low Credit Score
Why is your credit score low?
If it is an issue with delayed reporting, there is often nothing you can do but wait. Especially in the case of new accounts, as these can often take 2+ months before they appear on your credit history.
When you have an account (i.e. credit card, car loan, etc.) that is not being reported to all three credit bureaus, you can try discussing the matter with your creditor.
If that fails, you may want to consider closing the account or ending the service in favor of, say opening a different credit card or using a different rent reporting agency.
If the lower credit score is the result of an error on one or more of your credit reports, then you should work to get this information fixed ASAP. You can try contacting the creditor directly or filing a dispute with the credit reporting agency.
Even if a good credit score is the result of an error, you should look at getting this fixed.
Just know that it can take time for credit disputes to be resolved.
Viewing different scoring models can be educational, but since each model weighs information differently, you can’t possibly optimize your score for all of them. Instead, focus on whichever scoring model is most commonly used by your lenders (usually FICO).
Seeing a difference between your credit scores for each credit bureau is not a bad thing. Credit is a constantly fluctuating number, that is why there are score ranges for good credit, fair credit, and bad credit.
If your deviation in credit scores is caused by an error, then you’ll want to get this fixed immediately. Otherwise, try not to sweat the score differences. Often the only fix is time.
And know that most of the mortgage lenders will pull scores from all three credit bureaus and average them together. So one lower score shouldn’t impact your overall credit rating too much if you’re trying to buy a house.
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Amanda Garland is a personal finance blogger living in Dallas, TX. 10 years ago she was living paycheck to paycheck and knew nothing about how credit works. She learned some hard lessons in her fight for financial stability. Now she has a friendly competition going with her husband to see who can reach a credit score of 850 first. She is also a poet, having obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.