Close Mobile Menu

Think You Know Your Mortgage Credit Score? Check Again to Avoid Surprises

Think You Know Your Mortgage Credit Score? Check Again to Avoid Surprises
Tim Lucas - Home.com
Senior Editor, Home.com

Imagine applying for a home loan with what you think is a solid credit score to find that not only is the lender using a score that’s 70 points lower, but you no longer qualify for a mortgage.

This may sound like a nightmare scenario, but this tends to happen often for homebuyers and even for homeowners looking to refinance. That’s because many of the big-name credit monitoring sites offer free VantageScore® credit scores which are often higher than FICO® credit scores used by most lenders.

A survey by Home.com found that the VantageScore® credit scores offered by a popular credit monitoring site can be as many as 73 points higher than the FICO® Score 4 offered by ScoreGeniusTM, Home.com’s credit monitoring service.

At first glance, a higher credit score seems like a good thing. But relying on a VantageScore® credit score instead of a FICO® credit score core to qualify for a mortgage can result in unwelcome surprises in the loan process.

What's in this Article?

FICO vs Vantage
Jump
Different sites, different scores
Jump
Why the difference?
Jump
How your credit score affects loan costs
Jump
Do lenders choose?
Jump
How to check your FICO® Score for free
Jump

FICO® credit scores vs VantageScore® credit scores

Unless you were raised by loan officers, FICO and Vantage probably sound like a 90’s cartoon duo. So let’s translate the mortgage-ese into English:

Think of FICO® and VantageScore® like Coca-Cola and Pepsi: competitors that use two different formulas to create a similar product (and several variations of that product, like diet, cherry, etc.). In this case, the product is a score indicating your trustworthiness as a borrower. There are several other brands and types of credit scores, but FICO® and Vantage are the big dogs.

Lending institutions (banks, credit card companies, landlords) typically use either one or the other, but not both – similar to how restaurants typically only offer Coke or Pepsi products. And when it comes to mortgage lending, FICO® Scores 2, 4, and 5 are the versions used by a vast majority of lenders.

Since FICO® credit scores were around for 17 years before VantageScore® credit scores were introduced in 2006, they are far more widely used in lending decisions. According to research by the Mercator Advisory Group, “FICO® Scores were in 2016 used in more than 90% of lending decisions, including credit cards, mortgages, and automobile financing.”

It doesn’t hurt to know your VantageScore®, but to avoid surprises in the home loan process, homebuyers should come prepared knowing their FICO® Score 2, 4, or 5. And if you remember from earlier, ScoreGenius shows a FICO® Score 4.

Different sites, different score models

We asked 96 people to compare their VantageScore® from a big-name credit monitoring site to their FICO® Score from Home.com’s ScoreGenius. Fifty-six percent of respondents had a VantageScore® higher than their FICO® Score, the difference in their scores is graphed below.

Of the 56% of respondents with a higher VantageScore®:

  • The VantageScore® credit score averaged 20 points higher than their FICO® 4
  • 11% had a VantageScore® credit score 40 or more points higher than their FICO® 4
  • One respondent had a VantageScore® credit score 73 points higher than their FICO® Score 4
fico vs vantage score

Again, you can bring an excellent VantageScore® credit score to apply for a home loan, but that can be like bringing a football to a basketball game. The lender will almost always use a FICO® Score instead.

Why the difference?

It’s important to note, that neither score is “better” or “worse.” They’re simply two different products created with scoring models.

Here are some key differences between how FICO and Vantage scores are calculated:

Credit history

FICO requires a minimum six months of credit history to have a score. VantageScore® simply needs one line of credit to create a score, regardless of age.

Scoring breakdown

Imagine FICO and Vantage are mad scientists making a credit score concoction. Not only are they using slightly different ingredients, they’re pouring different amounts of those ingredients.

FICO vs. VantageScore® formulas

CategoryFICO® ScoreCategoryVantageScore®
Payment History35%Payment History40%
Amounts Owed vs. Credit Limit30%Length/Age of Credit History & Credit Mix21%
Length/Age of Credit History15%Credit Utilization20%
Having Varying Types of Credit10%Outstanding Balances11%
Amount of New Credit Applied For (Less is better)10%Recent Behaviors5%
  Available Credit3%

Scoring ranges

There are also differences in the scoring ranges that FICO and Vantage use.

VantageScore® scoring models assign consumers a number between 300 and 850:

  • Very poor: 500 and below
  • Poor: 500-600
  • Fair: 601 and 660
  • Good: 661-780
  • Excellent: 781-850

Most FICO scoring models also assign consumers a number between 300 and 850.

  • Poor: 580 and below
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Good: 670-739
  • Very good: 740 – 799
  • Exceptional: 800 and above

How your credit score affects loan costs

Your credit score has two main purposes in the home loan process.

  1. Determining which loan programs you may qualify for
  2. Determining your interest rate and closing costs

Your credit score gives lenders a sense of how likely you are to repay the loan, and the more likely you are to repay the loan, the less you’ll be charged for it.

Higher credit score = higher likelihood of repaying the loan = lower costs to service the loan

Let’s look at how this plays out in the mortgage process case:

Imagine you apply for a $300,000 home loan with 15% down expecting the lender to use the 680 VantageScore® that you got for free online. However, the lender pulls your FICO® Score (because that’s the score 90% of lenders use) and it’s 20 points lower at 660.

That 20-point difference could mean either $3,750 in extra closing costs, or an approximate $70-per-month increase to your mortgage payment based on a higher interest rate.

If it were a 73-point difference between 720 vs 647, you could owe an additional $8,250 in closing costs or approximately $140 per month on your mortgage payment.

The difference has to do with the matrix lenders use to price loans based on credit score and other factors. Even a single point can theoretically bump you into a higher-price bracket.

Remember, the issue isn’t just the difference in scores – it’s that many borrowers are expecting a VantageScore® credit score to be used instead of the FICO® credit score that is more widely used in mortgage lending.

Now let’s look at the worst-case scenario:

A free credit monitoring site says you have a 651 VantageScore® credit score, which qualifies for most home loan programs.

However, your lender pulls your FICO® Score and it’s 578 – a full 73 points lower than the one you received. That puts you below the 580 threshold that most lenders require to qualify for FHA or VA loans, and well below the 620 threshold for a conventional loan.

Do lenders choose between your FICO® and Vantage scores?

No. It’s important to note that lenders aren’t choosing which score to use on a case-by-case basis. Given it’s 17-year head start, FICO® Score is used for every loan by a vast majority of lenders.

So that means this equation goes both ways. You could bring in a 660 VantageScore® expecting a relatively high-cost loan, only to find you have a 680 FICO® Score and potentially $3,750 less in closing costs.

However, it’s not wise to bank on a happy accident, especially when you can check your FICO® Score for free in a few minutes using Home.com’s ScoreGenius.

ScoreGenius™ makes a soft pull inquiry to your credit, which means it won’t harm your score, and it also shows your credit profile, how your score is calculated, and scenarios for improving it.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in today’s housing market. But homebuyers who use ScoreGenius™ from Home.com can apply for a loan with more confidence in the score the lender will use to determine their loan qualification and a mortgage rate.


The information in this article does not constitute financial planning advice. Please consult a financial planner regarding your specific situation. Mortgage rate projections are not a reflection of Fairway’s opinion or guarantee of interest rates in the current or upcoming market. Fairway is not a registered or licensed credit management service provider.

Further Reading

FHA Loan Credit Score: Do You Qualify?

What’s the Minimum Credit Score For a Conventional Loan?

New Credit Score Rule Will Help Dual-Income Households Buy a Home