The government consumer watchdog says 1 in 5 credit scores that consumers buy varies meaningfully from the ones lenders use to make credit decisions.
In a new report released Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau looked at credit scores from 200,000 different credit files from the national credit reporting bureaus -- TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. It found that most credit scores, the ones bought by consumers and ones used by lenders, fell into similar "credit-quality" levels. The study divided the scores into four levels from the highest to the lowest.
But between 19 to 24 percent of the time, a score bought by a consumer fell in a credit-quality level that was one rung higher or lower than the lender's score. In one to three cases out of 100, the difference was two credit-quality levels.
That means some consumers would expect a better interest rate on a loan if they got a higher credit score than the one the lender used. Others may be surprised that their credit score doesn't meet certain loan requirements if they thought the score was higher than what the lender pulled. And a consumer may not apply for credit at all if he or she received a low credit score, even if a lender would get a higher one.
At the very least, the report underscores the need for Americans to realize there isn't one credit score. There are too many to count, but they have one factor in common: They are based on your credit report. So, throw your obsession over the three-digit credit score out and instead focus on improving your credit history.
Here's the simple formula for that: Pay your debt obligations on time. Don't rack up too much debt. Open new credit accounts only when you need them. And check your credit reports every year for mistakes.
I'll be back tomorrow with a more in-depth analysis of the CFPB's report. In the meantime, have you ever bought a credit score? Did you find it useful?
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