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Why Is My FICO Score Lower Than My Free Credit Score? What Credit Score Apps May Not Be Telling You

Why Is My FICO Score Lower Than My Free Credit Score? What Credit Score Apps May Not Be Telling You
stacey sprain
Home.com Contributor

Like many consumers, you’ve probably utilized free sites like Credit Karma, Annualcreditreport.com, or others to check your personal credit report and credit scores for free.

Using free report and score sites can be useful to help you understand the factors that contribute to your credit scores and even point out things you can do to improve your scores.

But there’s something these sites don’t tell you in big bold letters – although they probably should. Free credit score sites often give you a VantageScore, rather than a FICO score. These are two different credit scoring models, and your FICO score is the score lenders will use when you apply for a mortgage to buy a home.

It’s also typically lower than your VantageScore.

We’ll tell you why.

What's in this Article?

Why is my mortgage FICO score lower than my credit score in a free credit app?
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Why FICO score matters
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What to look for in a free credit monitoring platform
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Why is my mortgage FICO score lower than my credit score in a free credit app?

Most of the free credit monitoring sites provide VantageScore 3.0 credit scores. However, FICO scores are used by 90% of the lending community (mortgage companies or other types of lenders).

Both models pull data from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The difference is in how they use your credit report data to formulate your score.

FICO vs. VantageScore: Comparison of Contributing Factors

Category FICO Score Category VantageScore
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%

Most lenders – including mortgage lenders, auto lenders, and credit card issuers – use FICO scores when evaluating whether or not to grant you credit.

But a vast majority of free credit monitoring platforms use VantageScores when offering free credit scores and monitoring, along with credit education.

Learn more: Are There Different Types of Credit Scores? Here’s What You Should Know

Credit Site Score Model & Bureau(s) provided
Credit.comVantageScore from Experian
Credit KarmaVantageScore from Equifax and TransUnion
Credit SesameVantageScore from TransUnion
NerdWallet.comVantageScore from TransUnion
Home.comMortgage FICO score from TransUnion

“One of the benefits of some of the online credit services is that it will at least show what the trend is in your credit score,” says Craig Tashjian, a senior mortgage consultant with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation in Newton, Mass. (Fairway owns Home.com.) “If your score was a 640 last year and you review it today and it has gone up to 700, then it is likely that your mortgage credit report has trended up as well. The scores may not be the same, but the trend is in the right direction.”

But if you’re getting ready to apply for a mortgage, your mortgage FICO score is the number you want to know.

That’s why Home.com now offers a free FICO score option. It’s one of the only sites online that will allow you to check and monitor your mortgage FICO credit score with no costs and no strings attached.

FICO score vs VantageScore by score range

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
what is a good fico score

Why FICO score matters

Monitoring your credit and ensuring that your credit score is trending upward is a good personal finance practice. But knowing your mortgage FICO score will better prepare you for applying for a home loan – and it can help you avoid an unpleasant shock when you apply.

“The score that you see on most credit monitoring websites can be deceiving if you are trying to get a mortgage,” says Joe Pessolano, a Fairway branch sales manager in Garner, N.C. “Most sites do not offer visibility to the scores used in mortgage qualifying.”

“It is not uncommon to have a 30-40 point disparity between these two scoring systems, which can be the difference in both qualifying for a mortgage and obtaining the lowest possible interest rate,” says Todd Barrett, a loan officer with Fairway in Denver, Colo.  “You should always consult your loan officer and have them pull your credit report before starting the home and mortgage search to ensure you are working with the correct credit score information.”

“It is not uncommon to have a 30-40 point disparity between these two scoring systems, which can be the difference in both qualifying for a mortgage and obtaining the lowest possible interest rate.”

Todd Barrett, loan officer

Mortgage lenders will actually pull your FICO score from all three credit bureaus, and they will use the middle score of the three.

If your scores are as follows:

  • Experian: 780
  • TransUnion: 740
  • Equifax: 760

Your lender will use the Equifax score (760) rather than the highest or lowest numbers.

If you are buying the home with a co-borrower, or multiple co-borrowers, your lender will repeat the same process for each borrower and will use the lowest middle score of all borrowers on your application.

That’s why it’s all the more important for all borrowers to know their real mortgage credit scores, to set realistic expectations before starting the homebuying process.

Learn more: What Credit Scores Do Mortgage Lenders Use?

What to look for in a free credit monitoring platform

You should always be cautious when anything is offered to you for free. If you need to enter credit card information to get your “free” report and score, it could signal a trial period with an intent to start charging you a monthly fee if you don’t cancel within a certain time frame or by following specific cancellation instructions.

Be sure you review the terms and conditions that apply with getting your free credit report and scores. If you need to enter credit card information, it’s likely that “free” may not really be free.

If you need to enter credit card information, it’s likely that “free” may not really be free.

It’s also important to understand that although many of the sites offer you a free credit report and scores, they are being charged by the credit bureaus and any other providers they use to make their site attractive and user-friendly. That means they have to cover their costs somehow, and most often, those costs get covered by advertising and/or through the upselling of additional credit services you may not even need or benefit from.

Be cautious and try to ignore ads that try to sell you things and charge you added subscription fees for services you may not even need. Always read the terms, conditions, and fine print before providing your credit card information and enrolling into additional services.

“‘You get what you pay for applies to the online credit services,” Tashjian says. “If it’s ‘free’ to get your so-called credit score, then it’s probably worth nothing when trying to get a mortgage loan.” 

If the platform doesn’t provide your FICO score, that is. A free service like Home.com’s credit platform does not charge for your score, does not collect credit card information, and does not upsell you on other credit services. And we provide your mortgage FICO score, the score that actually matters when applying for a home loan.


Fairway is not a registered or licensed credit management service provider.

Further Reading

FHA Loan Credit Score: Do You Qualify?

What Credit Score Do You Need for a VA Home Loan?

Buyer’s Guide to USDA Loan Credit Score Requirements