What Is a Credit Score?

Young couple looking with a computer

Your credit score is a three-digit number meant to reflect the risk you could pose to a lender when you borrow money. It offers a quick glance at your credit health and history of paying back your debts. You can think of it as a snapshot of your risk level based on your credit history at a specific moment in time.

How is a credit score calculated?

There are many different credit scoring models. Two popular credit scoring models you may have come across are from the companies FICO and VantageScore. The score you see provided by TransUnion is based on the VantageScore® 3.0 model. FICO and VantageScore credit scores range from 300 – 850. The scores are calculated using information in your credit report. Much, but not all, of your credit report information is considered by scoring models. Here are credit score factors used by popular scoring models:

  • Payment history
  • Your balances or how much you owe
  • Age of your credit history
  • New credit or inquiries
  • The different types of credit you have

Why you have different credit scores

One reason you may have different credit scores is because there are different scoring models. Scoring models tend to focus on similar credit factors, but they may weigh their importance differently. For example, VantageScore indicates your credit mix, the different types of credit you have, is “highly influential” in their model. FICO states your credit mix amounts to about 10% of your FICO credit score. So your score may vary based on the model being used to calculate your score.

Another reason you may have different scores is because lenders may not report to all three national credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax). The information in your credit reports will largely overlap, but they may have slightly different information. So when your scores are calculated, there may be some minor variations depending on the report used.

Seeing a difference of a few points across different websites, apps or monitoring services may not be a cause for concern. But if you see a significant difference in your scores, it’s be a good idea to pull your credit reports to check for inconsistencies or signs of fraud.

How to check your credit scores

There are many places where you can get your credit score. Your bank or credit union may offer free credit scores via their online banking systems. Checking your own credit score will not negatively impact your score. Of course, there are many websites and apps where you can check as well.

There are also robust credit monitoring services that include credit scores as one of their features. For example, a paid subscription to TransUnion Credit Monitoring includes access to your VantageScore 3.0 credit score. When you get your free TransUnion credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com, you have the option to buy a one-time VantageScore 3.0 credit score for $0.99 plus tax. 

What is a good credit score?

Of course, higher is better. If you get a credit score from TransUnion, it is a VantageScore 3.0 credit score. A good credit score for the VantageScore 3.0 scoring model is within 721 – 780. Because there are different credit scoring models, what’s considered a good score can vary. Credit score models typically provide ratings based on ranges. Your credit score can fluctuate as information is added, removed or changed. So instead of shooting for a particular score, trying to achieve a score within an achievable range is a good goal.

Why good credit is important

A healthy credit history is built by consistently practicing good credit habits. Making payments on time and keeping your balances loan can show lenders you’re adept at managing debt. Lenders can use your credit score as a snapshot of your credit history, a quick measure to see how well you handle loans and other financial obligations. After building up a healthy history, you can be rewarded with higher chances of approval and lower interest rates on loans. For big purchases, like a mortgage or auto loan, this can result in significant savings.

Check list graphic with 3 tips for a good credit score. 1. Make payments on time. 2. Keep your balances low. 3. Apply for credit sparingly.

How to improve your credit health

It’s important to recognize that practicing healthy credit habits will help you no matter the credit scoring model. Understanding those key financial behaviors is essential.

Here are some smart habits to practice:

  • Make all your payments on time
  • Keep your balances as low as you can
  • Open new accounts sparingly
  • Be mindful about closing longstanding accounts — their history may be reflecting positively in your score
  • Check your credit report regularly to ensure it is accurate

As information is added or removed from your credit reports, you may see some fluctuation in your credit score. Minor changes are common as your account information is updated. However, if you see a major drop, it is something you should investigate. Since your score moves based on changing information in your report, reading through your credit reports should reveal the cause. Your credit score will also provide score factors, which provide detail into what’s impacting your score.

Monitoring your reports consistently is one of the most important credit habits. The more you read your reports, the more comfortable you’ll be with the information. This can make it easier to spot changes, even minor ones, which may impact your credit score. You can get your credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian for free weekly through AnnualCreditReport.com.

When it comes to improving your credit health, remember to be patient — not just with your credit, but with yourself. Healthy credit isn’t built overnight and mistakes can happen. Positive moves you make today may not be reflected in your report and scores immediately. But as those habits become routine, you’ll continue to build a credit history you can be proud of.

For help understanding the sections of your report and how they may impact your credit score, we’ve created a credit report guide to help you.            

Disclaimer: The information posted to this blog was accurate at the time it was initially published. We do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. The information contained in the TransUnion blog is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. You should consult your own attorney or financial adviser regarding your particular situation. This site is governed by the TransUnion Interactive privacy policy located here.

What You Need to Know:

The credit scores provided are based on the VantageScore® 3.0 model. Lenders use a variety of credit scores and are likely to use a credit score different from VantageScore® 3.0 to assess your creditworthiness.

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