Your credit score: Not always what you're told it is

@CNNMoney July 19, 2011: 2:22 PM ET

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- The credit score you get from an agency might be quite different from the credit score your lender gets, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The study found that credit reporting agencies use different models and choose different financial data to crunch into different credit scores for consumers than they do for banks, retailers, landlords and other creditors.

"Given this complexity, it is unlikely that a consumer will often be able to know the exact score that a particular lender will use to evaluate them," the report stated.

Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is two days from officially launching, the bureau had to conduct a number of studies required by the Dodd-Frank Act, including one that compared the differences in credit scores bought and paid for by consumers and creditors.

Creditors use credit scores to decide whether to approve or reject consumers for mortgages, credit cards, auto insurance even and apartment rentals.

Given the boom in the business of charging for a peek at credit scores, lawmakers wanted the bureau to study whether credit scores can vary. A quarter of the revenue that credit rating agencies now make comes from the sale of credit reports and scores to consumers, according to the report.

The study didn't look into whether the credit rating agencies were purposefully giving creditors better or worse credit scores than those provided to consumers.

But the study concludes that consumers and creditors can get different pictures of credit-worthiness, leaving consumers in the dark about the true quality of their credit.

"When a consumer purchases a score from a (credit rating agency) it is likely that the credit score that the consumer receives will not be the same score as that purchased and used by a lender to whom the consumer applies for a loan," the report said.

Requests for comment from the credit reporting agencies were not immediately returned.

The problems are in the different models used, and in the different information provided to get a credit score, according to the report.

The most common scores are FICO scores (Fair Isaac Corporation), which comprise of 90% of the market of scores sold to creditors. But there are different types of formulas available to create different types of FICO scores, the study states.

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In addition to FICO scores, each of the credit rating agencies sells their own credit scores to consumers, based on their own secret black-box formula, resulting in a score for "educational purposes," which can differ from the scores sold to creditors.

Also, different scores can be generated when a creditor calls a credit rating agency and reports incomplete information for a consumer, according to the bureau.

Consumers have the right to get one free credit report every year from each of the top three consumer reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. But the agencies didn't have to furnish the actual credit score for free.

Starting Thursday, part of the new Dodd-Frank law will allow consumers to get their credit score for free if they've been denied a loan or given unfavorable loan terms. Lenders who don't use credit scores to make decisions won't be required to disclose a score to consumers. To top of page

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