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Updated | By Greg Fisher
Consumers are bombarded with come-ons from hucksters all over the internet and television, and the sure-fire ways to get a meaningful credit score are less than obvious. There are only three companies selling FICO scores: Two credit bureaus and the score company. The third credit bureau is playing a big game with consumers. Avoid being taken by buying, and getting confused, by a credit score nobody in lending uses.
Even lenders don't use the PLUS score, so why should you?
"The PLUS Score® is not currently sold to lenders, and is not an endorsement or guarantee of your credit worthiness as seen by lenders." - Experian
There are cheap imitations to confuse you. One, in particular, seems to be everywhere: The PLUS score by Experian. It has a scale (330-830) strangely similar to the FICO (300-850). A common scenario sees a consumer obtaining this "consumer-focused" score, seeing the number, breathing a sigh or relief that theirs is above average, then finding out that their score that the lender uses is lower, and that the consumer's credit report score is nowhere near average. Read the fine print.
See the Fake-O FICO Flim Flam.
FICO scores, the real scores
First, be sure that you get the credit score that you think you're getting. If you spend your money on anything, make it the authentic FICO score. It is the type that "is most often used by lenders" (alt). Each of the three national credit bureaus ("consumer reporting agency that compiles and maintains files on
consumers on a nationwide basis") produce a FICO score from their file about you. But, only two of them will sell you the score. You can get
the third (or all three) 2 out of 3 2/16/09 from the FICO score company, Fair Isaac, itself.
Fair Isaac's myFICO.com web site is the only place where you can get access to
all three 2 out of 3 FICO scores and credit reports. Just as important, it also provides access to score simulators for two out of three of the scores (Equifax and TransUnion) to illustrate what actions that will cause your score to go up or down. Experian plays possum. There is a credit score message board to commiserate with other 800 (or 600 or 700) credit score wannabes.
$14.95 for your TransUnion credit report and FICO score. Simulator included. You cannot get the other two bureaus' FICO scores there.
A note on "inquiries" (credit checks)
Obtaining your own credit report does not damage it (or affect the credit score in any way, at all) and lenders do not see a record of your inquiries. A credit check by a lender may affect your credit score, but you can always check your own report without consequence.
Getting your FICO credit report score (at least the one that's available) at annualcreditreport.com is confusing at worst, and ambiguous at best. Don't bother. Free credit report, yes. Paid credit score, no. Congress screwed up this one.
With its official mission (the law requires its existence), you might think it would be a .gov web site. But, it is actually run by business: The CRAs. Unfortunately, getting your FICO score at annualcreditreport.com is not a good idea (see above for where to get your FICO score). The credit bureaus, of course, don't like giving away free credit reports, so they're not about to make it easy for you to escape with selling you something, too. Watch out-- there are land mines and boobytraps. The best thing to do at annualcreditreport.com is to get your free credit reports, and leave.
Here's a FAQ from annualcreditreport.com:
How can I get my credit score?
You can purchase a credit score by contacting one of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies.
Equifax - www.equifax.com
Experian - www.experian.com
TransUnion - www.transunion.com
You can also purchase a credit score when you request your free annual credit report through this website.
Key word: "a" (as in a credit score). It doesn't say which credit score-- just a credit score. And, according to media reports, in two out of three cases (TransUnion and Experian), the score is not the FICO. How did that happen? It's in the law: The part about what the Federal Trade Commission calls "educational" scores.
Consumer Reports writes, "These scores are available when a consumer obtains a credit report via the annualcreditreport.com site for $5.95 (from Experian for a VantageScore [not a FICO]), $7.95 (from Transunion for a VantageScore), and $7.95 (from Equifax for a FICO Score)."
According to CNN in the story, "Credit score confusion reigns" (Jun. 29, 2007), "The VantageScore is now the default score sold to consumers by Experian and TransUnion, either through their Web sites or via annualcreditreport.com."
(That is not true. The score at Experian.com is the PLUS.)
A blogger (and his posters) describes the lunacy in "The Confusing World Of Credit Scores And Some Pointers For Getting FICO Scores For Cheap," where he writes, "I don’t know why they are making it so complicated for the common man." Research for this topic via first-hand experience is limited to once every 12 months, so contribute to the collective knowledge. Join the discussion.
In a November 28, 2005 account of a person's experience, BusinessWeek reports, "When you request a free credit report, each bureau will offer to calculate a credit score for $6.95. Experian and TransUnion use proprietary formulas; Equifax uses FICO scores."
The Consumer Federation of America/Fair Isaac pamphlet "YOUR CREDIT SCORES" describes the annualcreditreport.com credit scores by their respective scales:
FICO score via Equifax: 300—850
Experian score: 330—830 [that's the PLUS score, not a FICO]
TransUnion score: 150—934 [the TransUnion Score, not a FICO]
The date on that document is 2005.
In a November 30, 2004 story, a writer at the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "For $5, Experian offers its own Plus credit score."
Summit Credit Union in Madison created an extremely instructive and detailed document on March 4, 2005. They made screenshots of the annualcreditreport.com ordering process. See the TransUnion disclaimer on page 19: "Note: Our Credit Score may not use the same credit scoring model used by a lender when making a lending decision."
That's their way of saying that the score is not a FICO. Another way that they say it is on page 21, where the scale of the score is delineated as 400-925.
TransUnion, if you would like to clear things up for the record, write. Your email will be published right here, on this page.
TransUnion's (fka Trans Union) cat-and mouse game goes all the way back to 1999, when all three CRAs' representative asked the oh-so compelling question, "Well, again, what scores?"!!?! Equifax cleaned TUC's and EXP's clocks by being first with a FICO score (BEACON). The question was disingenuous at the time, and a harbinger of the shell games TransUnion and Experian have played ever since.
Congress: Who-- in their right mind-- would go to the trouble of getting their credit report, and then not get their FICO score? The consumer still pays. Free credit reports were the best thing that ever happened to the credit bureaus.
So, why bother with annualcreditreport.com? Because it's free. And, at least, it provides online disputing.
How much does it cost? The price for a credit score is: ?
And, how much does a credit score cost? Certainly, the FACT Act amendment to the FCRA (subsection 609(f)) will settle that one. On December 4, 2003, the President signed into law the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003. Eleven months later, on 11/8/04, in the Federal Register, the FTC solicited comments. The FTC's own press release said the law directed it to develop a "'fair and reasonable' fee for credit bureaus to charge consumers for a copy of their credit score beginning December 1, 2004," less than a month after soliciting comments. Three years after the FACT Act was signed into law, there was still no price. The FTC explained that Congress didn't set a deadline. In a congressional hearing on credit report disputes in 2007, a Federal Trade Commission representative listed the fee determination under "Tasks still in progress," and submitted that the Commission is "working" on it, and is committed to completing its task "as quickly as possible."
In response to congressional questioning, the FTC representative said, "I think that we can come up with a timetable for completing the remaining tasks." (video, at 1:12:00)
That was June 19, 2007.
In the meantime, here's all we've got:
The Commission recognizes that the provisions of FCRA section 609(f) will become effective on December 1, 2004 without regard to whether the Commission has made a determination or given guidance on how it will determine whether a particular fee is fair and reasonable. Although Congress has directed credit scores be available for a fair and reasonable fee as determined by the Commission, it did not impose a deadline for a determination nor has it required that the determination be made in any particular manner. Furthermore, there is no indication that Congress meant to require regulated entities to make the required disclosures free of charge. For these reasons, the Commission interprets section 609(f) to allow regulated entities to charge a fee for required disclosures in advance of any specific Commission determination or other guidance, so long as that fee is fair and reasonable. Thus, absent additional Commission action on or before December 1, 2004, consumer reporting agencies must disclose mortgage or educational scores to consumers and may charge a fair and reasonable fee for those disclosures. Indeed, this process is currently used in the states that require similar disclosure.
The Commission’s enforcement of the ‘‘fair and reasonable’’ requirement will be by reference to the extant market in credit scores. Thus, at present the Commission may question any fee that significantly exceeds the current market rates for credit scores, which are currently in the range of $4 to $8.
The FTC's loose, self-imposed deadline:
The Commission proposes an effective date of thirty days after promulgation of its final determination.
The Commission recognizes that the provisions of FCRA section 609(f) will become effective on December 1, 2004 without regard to whether the Commission has made a determination or given guidance on how it will determine whether a particular fee is fair and reasonable.23
The FTC also testified, "Currently, many credit reporting agencies appear to be charging fees under $10 to obtain a credit score."
Of course, that is all a bunch of hooey if the score they sell you isn't the real score.
Many? How many credit bureaus with credit scores are there?
- Equifax: $7.95 (FICO)
- TransUnion: $5.95 (TransUnion Score)(Fake-O)
- Experian: $5.00 (PLUS score)(Fake-O)(they don't say how to get it)
|AnnualCreditReport.com: FREE||+ Equifax $7.95||... you have an 800, so nothing.||$7.95|
|AnnualCreditReport.com: FREE||+ Equifax $7.95||... your score stinks and you want the simulator at myFICO: $15.95||$23.90|
|AnnualCreditReport.com: FREE||+ Experian $5.00||... you realize it's a Fake-O, and get the EXP FICO at myFICO.com, $15.95||$20.95|
|AnnualCreditReport.com: FREE||+ TransUnion $5.95||... you realize it's a Fake-O, and get the TUC FICO at myFICO.com, $15.95||$21.90|
|myFICO.com: $15.95||Includes 1 FICO||--||$15.95|
|TransUnionCS.com: $14.95||Includes TUC FICO||--||$14.95|
|Equifax.com: $15.95||Includes EFX FICO||--||$15.95|
|myFICO.com, all three||--||--||$47.85|
The telephone alternative to annualcreditreport.com: 1-877-FACT-ACT (1-877-322-8228) "We will use your home phone number to verify your name and address."
Or, for the Equifax FICO score by telephone, call 1-877-SCORE-11.
Not FICO scores, some Fake-O scores
Things aren't always what they seem.
Experian credit score web sites
- Experian.com. Links to the PLUS score (not a FICO).
- FreeCreditReport.com: An Experian thing. PLUS score. All over cable. Cable spots say 450 to 850, but the PLUS scale is 330-830.
- ConsumerInfo.com: More Experian. PLUS score. (see "Marketer of 'Free Credit Reports' Settles FTC Charges" (FreeCreditReport.com, ConsumerInfo.com))
TransUnion credit score web sites
- TransUnion.com leads you to a Fake-O at TrueCredit.com
- TrueCredit.com: The "TransUnion TransRisk New Account Credit Score." The scale illustrated is, oddly, the same as the FICO score.
- But, the non-intuitive address TransUnionCS.com (see above) sells the FICO score.
Others (still, no FICO scores)
- CreditReport.com (MightyNet.com). Goofy. Front page shows score scale as 350 to 850. Another shows 300 to 900. Another "anywhere from 300 to 990." Another talks about the FICO "300 to 850", and "others" with "a broader range (150 to 930)" (unknown what score that is). Scale for the score he hawks on another page is 350-850 (the CreditXpert score). CreditXpert claims them as a client, but Consumer Reports WebWatch study reports that "creditreport.com provided an Experian PLUS score." (?) States that the national average score is "actually in the neighborhood of 680" (see Fake-O FICO Funk). Pages for Hoover, Alabama, Victoria, Texas, and Windsor, Connecticut. Find your town! Absurdity: Two Fake-O companies in litigation.
- VantageScore.com. VantageScore (not a FICO-- but at least they're not trying to pass it off as one). The credit bureaus' grand joint attempt.