What is a FICO score?

A FICO® score is a particular brand of credit score. A credit score is a number that is used to predict how likely you are to pay back a loan on time. Credit scores are used by companies to make decisions such as whether to offer you a mortgage or a credit card. They are also used to determine the interest rate you receive on a loan or credit card, and the credit limit. Learn more about credit scores generally.

FICO stands for the Fair Isaac Corporation. FICO was a pioneer in developing a method for calculating credit scores based on information collected by credit reporting agencies. Today, other companies also have credit scoring formulas (“models”), but most lenders still use FICO scores when deciding whether to offer you a loan or credit card, and in setting the rate and terms. Banks may also use FICO scores when approving checking and savings account applications and setting the terms of those accounts.

Just like there is no single credit score – there are several companies that create scores – there is also no single FICO score. Like all credit scores, FICO scores depend on the contents of your credit report. There are three major agencies that collect credit data -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Because the credit reporting data at each agency can be different, your FICO scores may be different depending on which agency’s data is used to calculate it. FICO also has different variations of its basic scoring model tailored to different types of lenders (for example, home loans or car loans). So you could have several different FICO scores, even when they are all calculated from the same credit agency’s data.

You cannot buy these customized kinds of FICO scores, but myfico.com does make available a score calculated with a general FICO model. Several other companies also provide “educational” scores that might give you some sense of what your scores might look like. Your educational score can be different from the score a lender would use, and the differences can sometimes be significant. The CFPB published a report on these differences.

FICO scores range from 300-850. Usually a higher score makes it easier to qualify for a loan and may result in a better interest rate. Like all credit scores, FICO scores can change over time according to your credit behavior.


To get and keep a good credit score:

  • Pay all your bills on time.
  • Apply only for the credit that you need.
  • Don’t use too much of the credit that is available to you.
  • Order your free credit report every year and dispute any errors you find.
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