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When Your Credit Score Isn’t Really Your Credit Score

Many articles have been written about the importance of having healthy credit. And nowhere is the state of your credit more important than when you apply for a home loan. For most people, a house is the most expensive thing they will ever buy, and the overall health of your credit determines whether or not a lender will offer you an affordable home loan. Since the most common measure of financial health is a credit score, most potential buyers are urged by well-meaning sources to “check your credit score before you apply.” Many would-be homebuyers head to the Internet to do just that and seeing that their score is sufficient, they head off, score in hand, to meet with a lender to discuss potential loans.

And then the lender drops the bomb – “Sorry, but your credit score is too low. You don’t qualify for the best interest rate.”

What happened? How can the credit score you buy be higher than the one the lender receives? The answer is a simple one – there is more than one kind of credit score. Each of the three main credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, use a different method of determining credit scores. While the scale and criteria they use are roughly the same, the formula is slightly different at each bureau, so checking with all three bureaus could provide you with three different scores. Or even four – the three bureaus are now also making use of a unified scoring system. But which one is the “correct” score?

Mortgage lenders almost universally check the FICO score, created by Fair, Isaac, and Co. The FICO score is similar to many others, but it’s the one that lenders are checking. That means that if you want to know exactly where you stand ahead of time, you need to check your FICO score yourself. And you need to make sure that the number you receive is, in fact, your FICO figure and not some other arbitrary score.

How can you do that? There are many places on the Internet where you can obtain your credit score, but not all of them will offer the FICO figure. Make sure that the site you visit provides the FICO score before you agree to pay. Equifax makes the FICO figure available on their site, as does If you aren’t sure, you might check with one of those two Websites. Making sure you have an accurate representation of your financial health prior to applying for a home loan is a great idea. Just make sure that you are looking at the same measure of financial health that your lender will use – your FICO score.

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