The Consumer Score Hoax

An Additional Resource Exclusively for Students of the 720 Credit Challenge …

Every time I hear one of those catchy jingles on the radio advertising a “free credit score,” I cringe.
I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating …
Almost none of the so-called “free credit score” website will actually give away free credit scores. They sell them, and the credit scores they sell are total junk.
The system is admittedly a little confusing, so let me explain the players …
There are two entities working to determine your credit score.
First are the credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. These three bureaus are responsible for collecting information about your payment history. If you pay your Visa bill on time, for instance, Visa will let the credit bureaus know that you pay as agreed. If you pay late, Visa will report a delinquency.
Think of the credit bureaus like a grocery store. The credit bureaus keep all sorts of information about you (groceries) under one roof.
That said, not all creditors will report to every single credit bureau. Your Visa credit card might report information to two out of the three credit bureaus. Your MasterCard might report to all three.
So the “grocery stores” all have slightly different information about you. Just like some grocery stores carry goat’s milk and some do not, some credit bureaus might know about that late payment on your Visa, and another might not.
But remember: the credit bureaus store the information. This alone isn’t enough to give you a credit score.
This is where the second entity comes into play.
Your credit score is created when a formula is applied to the information the credit bureaus keep about you.
That said, a different formula is applied to your information based on who wants to know your credit score.
For instance, if a potential employer wants to know your credit score, a different formula will be used than if a mortgage banker wants to know your credit score.
This is because the mortgage broker cares much more about your history on mortgage payments than a potential employer, who wants a more general picture of your financial trustworthiness.
If the credit bureaus are the grocery store, the formula is a recipe.
Like I said, your credit score is calculated when a formula is applied to the information stored by the credit bureaus.
But because the credit bureaus (grocery stores) all carry different information about you, and because the formula (recipe) varies based on who is requesting the credit score, you actually have many different credit scores.

  • When applying the auto formula, Equifax will produce one score.
  • When applying the tenant-screening formula, Equifax will produce a different score.
  • When applying the tenant-screening formula, TransUnion will produce yet another score.
  • And so on and so forth.

That said, if a lender pulls your score, the credit-reporting bureaus will almost always use something called the “FICO” formula. The only credit scores you need to know are credit scores based on the FICO formula.
But if you, the consumer, pull your own score from one of those jingle-y websites, the credit-reporting bureaus will almost always use something called a “Consumer” formula.
The trouble is that no one—no lender, no credit card company, no employer, and no landlord—will ever use your Consumer score.
Yet, this is the score you will get if you buy your credit score from most free credit report websites.
For instance, take a look at While downloading your free annual credit report, you will be offered your Equifax credit score for a fee. But check out the fine print:
The Equifax Risk Score [a Consumer score] and the credit file on which it was based may be different than the credit file and credit scoring model that may be used by lenders.
The truth is that the score a lender uses will be different. As of 2013, I have been in the mortgage industry for 20 years, and I have never once used an Equifax Risk Score.
When writing my book about how to build credit, 7 Steps to a 720 Credit Score, I studied tens of thousands of credit reports and credit scores used by my loan office. All of them—a full 100 percent—were based on the FICO formula, and not one of them used a Consumer formula such as the Equifax Risk Score.
This bears repeating: 100 percent of the tens of thousands of credit reports and credit scores that my loan office used to determine creditworthiness were based on the FICO formula.
So just how different are the credit scores sold on free credit report websites?
I tested this with my own credit file by pulling my FICO score and my Consumer score on the same day. My FICO score was a whopping 237 points lower than my Consumer score.
Then I asked my friends, Jocelyn and Michael, to let me run an experiment on their credit scores. Again, the Consumer score was artificially high.
Michael`s FICO score—the score a lender would consider—was 79 points lower than his Consumer score, and Jocelyn`s FICO score was 54 points lower than her Consumer score.
In all three circumstances, the Consumer score was higher.
This provides would-be-borrowers with an artificial sense of security.
Prospective homeowners or car buyers do a little research, realize that lenders provide the best interest rates to people with FICO scores of at least 720, then they buy their credit scores from a free credit report website.
They don`t realize that the credit score they are buying is not a FICO score.
And when their Consumer credit score comes in at 745 or 815, they think they are out of the woods. Instead of taking the steps necessary to build their credit scores, they sit back and relax.
But when it comes time to buy a house or a car, their loan applications are either denied due to low credit, or they end up paying more interest than they expected.
In Jocelyn and Michael`s case, the difference in interest on a $300,000, 30-year, fixed-rate home loan would have been about $12,000.
And this is a problem for everyone, not just prospective homeowners or car buyers. What about the folks who carry credit cards? These people buy their Consumer scores, and then wonder why they are not qualifying for better interest rates. My credit score is high, they think. I guess these are the best available interest rates.
Little do they know that they should take a few simple steps to rebuild their real credit score—their FICO score.
So what should you do about this dilemma?
Get an accurate representation of your credit score by buying it directly from This is the one and only place you can get your FICO credit scores.
You will notice, though, that only two out of the three credit bureaus (Equifax and TransUnion) sell FICO scores through Experian does not allow FICO to sell its credit scores to the general public. In fact, even Experian’s own website does not sell FICO scores.
It’s website has this disclaimer:
“Calculated on the PLUS Score model, your Experian Credit Score indicates your relative credit risk level for educational purposes and is not the score used by lenders.”
So if you want to know what your Experian FICO score is, the only place you can get it is from a lender …
But that’s okay, because you really only need to know two of your three FICO scores. Let me explain …
When determining your interest rate for any given loan or credit card, lenders look at your middle score and assign that rating to you.
For instance, if your Experian FICO score is 720, your TransUnion FICO score is 680, and your Equifax FICO score is 612, lenders will consider 680 to be your credit score.

Experian        720

TransUnion  680

Equifax           612

Because you most likely will be unable to get your hands on your Experian score, you won’t know which of your two scores is your “middle score”…

TransUnion  680

Equifax           612

Experian could come in higher, lower, or in the middle.
So what I suggest is that you work to raise both your Equifax and TransUnion scores to 720. This way, when you go in to apply for a loan, it will not matter what your Experian score is. If it is lower than 720, it will be “cancelled out” by your highest score. If it is higher than 720, it will cause another score to be cancelled out. Either way, your middle score will fall above 720, and you will be considered for the best possible loan terms.
I hope this clarifies some of the mystery surrounding the world of credit-scoring. As always, leave a comment below the Lesson Plan Video if you have any questions.