My girlfriend applied for a credit card and was approved. The approval letter included her Experian score, which stated a score of 645 (I don't remember the exact number, but that neighborhood). She has used Credit Karma for awhile and her scores have always been above 700, but usually 750. After reading the letter, I told her to download the Experian app to check that score and it also said she was around 750 (don't remember the exact number).

I understand that Credit Karma's (and I assume Experian's app) report doesn't report an accurate number, but is more of a ballpark figure to help you determine your credit health. However, there's a difference of 100 points and a whole category lower, which seems significant. What could be the cause? OR who's a good person to ask for specifics and how should the question be worded? I told her that talking to the creditor would probably be a good start, but asking "What gives?" probably isn't the best route.

In the end, we guess it's not that big of a deal as she got the card just fine. But the difference is alarming and we don't know credit well enough to figure out what the issue could be, especially since her credit is pretty immaculate.


1 Answer 1


An often-misunderstood aspect of credit score reporting is that the score can vary based on two dimensions: The bureau it's pulled from, and the scoring model used. In other words, not all Experian scores are the same.

You've identified Experian in your question. They are one of several major credit bureaus used in the United States. Their job is to collect information on consumers and calculate credit scores, then sell access to those scores to financial institutions or the consumers themselves. The first potential variance is that each bureau does this collection-scoring-distribution process a little differently, and they may have different data available to them, or they may receive data in different timeframes. So, a score from Experian may be different than a score from another bureau.

However, that doesn't seem to be the case for you, since you've mentioned that both scores came from Experian. In this case, we can assume that the difference was because a different model was used. The data a credit bureau collects on you is fed into a mathematical model in order to determine the score. The model is what assigns points to different factors (i.e. age of credit, utilization, late payments, and so on). There are several scoring systems in use, but the major systems are FICO and VantageScore. Within each of those systems, there are different versions of the models (so, even two FICO scores may be slightly different, depending on the FICO version in use).

CreditKarma uses VantageScore. Most financial institutions who are evaluating you for lending will use one of the FICO scores. This can mean that your CreditKarma score is different than the score a lender sees when they pull your credit. Note that it doesn't inherently mean that either score is wrong - it just means that they're calculated differently.

To bring this back to your example, you said:

The approval letter included her Experian score, which stated a score of 645

That's not really a full statement - likely, her Experian FICO score was 645. And it was different from the 700 score she saw on CreditKarma because that was her Experian VantageScore.

You also said,

we don't know credit well enough to figure out what the issue could be

That's easy to solve, as there's lots of google-able information on the web that explains credit models and how they work. Also, since you're already using CreditKarma, do some digging in there - they provide educational tools and even specific feedback on why your score changed each month. It's also worth following up with her bank, as many financial institutions are happy to explain how they evaluate customers for lending, and what factors are actually important (hint: credit score is one of many, and often not even the most important). In the end, now is a great time to start learning about what influences lending decisions, since it'll help you change your behaviors as needed to make sure you're set up for any future lending plans (i.e. a mortgage or other major loan).

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    I didn't know that FICO and VantageScore were different models. Like, I knew FICO was a model, wasn't sure what VantageScore is (though I knew Credit Karma used it). She and I understand the different factors that make up a score (utilization, age of credit, on-time payments, etc) but this is a whole level of credit that I wasn't aware of. Thanks for pointing out something that I need to research. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 16:09
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    You can find info via google about typical differences in the scoring models. That can help you understand the difference you're seeing. Ultimately, credit scores are meant to predict your chance of default in the near term. It's not a perfect science, hence the different models weigh factors differently. Anecdotally, score differences of a couple dozen points are the norm; 100 points' difference is not uncommon but probably near the top end of the typical variation.
    – dwizum
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 13:40

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