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Dear Liz: I began paying down my debt six months ago and have paid off $10,000 so far. I subscribed to a credit score tracking system through a free offer and was told my credit score was in the 670 range most of the time. When I applied for a mortgage loan recently, however, the bank told me my middle score was only 612. One credit bureau said my score was just 590! How is this possible?

Answer: There are many different credit scoring formulas available today, but the one used by most mortgage lenders is the FICO. You have FICO scores from each of the three bureaus, and mortgage lenders typically use the middle of those three scores to determine your rates and terms.

Unfortunately, many of the companies hawking “alternative” scores don’t make it clear to their customers that they’re not seeing a FICO score. The confusion is compounded by the fact that your credit scores, including your FICOs, change all the time, and lenders also use somewhat different versions of the FICO scoring formula, which can produce somewhat different results.

Still, for a score that’s closest to what your lender will see and use, you want FICOs. You can buy your FICO scores for two of the three bureaus at MyFico.com. Unfortunately, Experian no longer sells FICO scores to consumers, although it continues to sell them to lenders. That means you can no longer know in advance what rate you qualify for, since you can’t know what your middle score is until your lender gets all three.

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I am planning to purchase a home within the next year. I have monitoring of all 3 scores and through myFICO. Based on your response, Liz, should I pay attention to all my scores, but esp. to the FICO score since that is what lenders look at the most?


Exactly, but unfortunately you can’t get your Experian FICO score, since Experian no longer sells those to consumers, just to lenders. So it’s impossible to know in advance which is your middle score, which is what mortgage lenders typically use to set your rate & terms. Still, getting two of the three will give you some idea of where you stand.