VantageScore vs FICO: What’s the Difference?

Shoshanna Cohen  | 

You may hear the terms FICO and VantageScore interchangeably in talk about credit scores. While both companies offer a credit score based on data reported by the three main credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), and both scores are currently based on the same numerical scale of 300 to 850, there are differences in how the two companies come up with their scores.

How VantageScore and FICO Use Your Credit History

The categories that VantageScore and FICO use to evaluate credit data are similar. In a nutshell, this is how they break down:


35% Payment History: Have you paid your bills on time?

30% Accounts Owed: How many outstanding bills are you sitting on?

15% Length of Credit History: How long have you had a credit card?

10% Active Credit Diversity: How many different credit cards and loans do you currently have open?

10% New Credit (including inquiries): How many new credit cards and loans have you recently applied for?


40% Payment History

21% Age & Type of Credit: How long have you had the credit line or debt? Is it student loans, credit cards, home loans?

20% Utilization: How much of your allowed credit limit are you actually using?

11% Active Debt: How much debt are you currently carrying?

5% New Credit & Inquiries

3% Available Credit: How much credit do you still have available to spend?

But these numbers don’t tell the full story. Specifically, how each category is evaluated and where the data comes from differ between the two models.

What Is Trended Data?

One major difference between VantageScore and FICO is that the former uses trended data to calculate your credit score. This means that while FICO takes a snapshot of your credit situation at the time of the inquiry, VantageScore looks at more of your data over time to identify patterns.

FICO will ding you for a recent missed payment, while VantageScore will not weigh it as harshly if it’s contrasted against a history of on-time payments. (If, however, you have a habit of paying your bills late, you will be penalized in both scores.) So while on the one hand it’s harder to run from an unfortunate past, VantageScore also views isolated strokes of bad luck in an otherwise healthy financial picture as just that.

What Will Hurt Your Credit Score?

Overall though, the two scoring models have more commonalities than differences. They are both looking to predict whether you’ll be a risk for lenders, so there are certain predictive factors that will ding you in both VantageScore and FICO: Taking out too many loans in a short period of time, having your identity stolen (not necessarily your fault, but still bad for your score), defaulting on loans, having multiple missed payments, and over-relying on debt to pay bills will all hurt your credit.

While VantageScore may be more statistically forgiving of isolated mistakes, both scores will dock points for negative financial habits. The purpose of a more sophisticated scoring system is ultimately an effort to help lenders make better decisions, not help consumers hide mistakes and debts.

The takeaway here is to pay attention to recurring behaviors that may be hurting you, and take steps to remedy them. If you keep running up a higher credit card bill than you can pay off at the end of the month, what are you usually purchasing? If you keep having to raise your credit limit, are there ways you could budget better?

What If You Don’t Have Credit?

Historically, someone who has not yet developed credit by using credit cards cannot have a FICO score (or at least, not a good one). But now, both VantageScore and a new type of FICO score called FICO XD look at other history like phone and cable bills, as well as trended data, to predict borrowing behaviors, so even if you’re just starting out on your financial journey you can still get a credit score and qualify for a loan.

This approach opens up credit scoring to many more people than the FICO model. Just because someone doesn’t have credit history doesn’t mean they’re not a great candidate for, say, a home loan. There are specific groups traditionally missed, or excessively penalized, by FICO: immigrants, younger people, and in many cases, African Americans and Hispanics, who simply use credit cards less routinely. Including these potential borrowers in scoring opens up the lending market to more borrowers, and introduces more parity to the lending market.

What Are the Benefits for Consumers?

VantageScore is easier to understand from a consumer’s perspective. The scoring system includes reason codes, which provide insight into the factors that influence your credit score. Knowing the reasons your credit score is what it is empowers you to change those specific behaviors to improve your score.

In an attempt to be more transparent, the VantageScore website also includes educational resources that help consumers understand how the score works and know how to keep it healthy. FICO also understands that individuals want more tools to take control of their finances, and has useful resources on its site as well. The better you understand how the scores work, the more you can tweak your financial behavior to reflect well in the scores.

Even though they calculate their scores in different ways, FICO and VantageScore do have some things in common. They both aim to predict your level of risk from a lender’s perspective based on your past financial behavior. While a new borrower with little credit history may want to focus on their VantageScore, everyone can benefit from good financial habits, which overall will be reflected in both scores: Pay your bills on time, avoid racking up too much consumer debt, and pay down those continuing balances.

For more on how your credit score is calculated, and how to read your credit report, visit the Fiscal Tiger credit score learning center. For help contacting the bureaus and disputing errors, visit our letter template resource center.

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Shoshanna Cohen is a writer based in Boise, Idaho. Her interests include health, fitness, finance, and culture.

This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published August 3, 2017.