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I just went to Citi Bank's website (which gives free FICO scores from Equifax for users of some credit cards) and I realized that the score I saw there was a whopping ~50 points higher than the number I saw on Mint.com, despite the fact that they both claim to have received the number from Equifax.
The only difference is the fact that Mint checked my score at the end of February 2015, whereas Citi checked it at the end of January 2015.

However, nothing unusual has happened to my credit history in between these two. I can confirm on Mint's credit report that nothing seems wrong, so I'm quite confused:

  1. What can cause such a discrepancy?

  2. Whom should I contact to understand what is going on -- Mint, Citi, Equifax, or other?
    How should I contact them -- file a dispute, call them, or go somewhere in person?

Note that I don't feel I'm "disputing" anything, since I don't know if there is any cause for a dispute, and hence I'm not sure it makes sense to open a dispute with Equifax. I just want to know what is going on and why two third-party agencies claim to have received such wildly different numbers from the same agencies in the span of 1 month.

  • I'm not sure we can answer this. The algorithm behind the credit scores is secret. Heck, the algorithm itself may have changed in early 2015. You may find this blog post relevant: mint.com/blog/credit/how-often-does-my-credit-score-change-0813 – ChrisInEdmonton Mar 10 '15 at 13:29
  • It's important to remember that if you're not paying for some piece of financial information, then the primary reason why someone is freely giving you that information is to encourage you to start paying for something related to that information. This is the insidious genius behind credit scores: there are dozens of them out there, and each provider can claim that theirs is the most useful and that you should therefore pay them to monitor your score. Each provider thus has a vested interest in showing you a different version of your "score". – dg99 Mar 10 '15 at 16:56
  • @dg99: Sure, but there is only one FICO score is obtained from Equifax, so it should logically be the same thing whether it's received by Mint vs. Citi, so that's why I'm confused. – Mehrdad Mar 10 '15 at 17:12
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    No, unfortunately there is not "only one FICO score" per credit bureau. The same way that FICO is free to license different versions of its algorithm to each credit bureau, each credit bureau is free to license different versions of its own score to different clients. There's the version of your score that Equifax reports to you directly, a different version of your score it might give to GMAC, a different version it might give to Fannie Mae, etc. This is one of the reasons why it doesn't matter where you get your score from, because they're all just approximations of approximations. – dg99 Mar 10 '15 at 17:22
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The free credit score from Mint.com is not a FICO score. Citi does give us Equifax FICO score but even with FICO there exist so many variations. Fair Isaac has developed around 50 different scores using different formulas - only very few are actually accessible to consumers. Most free credit scores are simply FAKO scores (which are never used by lenders). They can choose to put more weight on some element of your credit report; or ignore your history as an authorized user (which is a common credit rebuilding technique). It is just pointless to directly compare credit scores from different sources, because that tells you nothing other than that they are different.

Now there are still ways to utilize those free scores. You can try collect them periodically and watch the trend of each score. The idea is that, FAKO or FICO, the factors that affect your score are very similar. If you see your Mint.com score going up two months straight, chances are that the actual FICO scores that lenders use would also go up. I was able to verify this with my CreditKarma, CreditSesame and Transunion FICO scores.

  • +1 but do you have any source explaining on what kind of score is given by Mint? (How do you know it's not a FICO score?) – Mehrdad Mar 11 '15 at 21:18
  • @Mehrdad credit.mint.com footnote says the score is based on a proprietary model from Equifax, hence FAKO. Rule of thumb - if it doesn't say FICO, it's probably a FAKO. – xiaomy Mar 11 '15 at 21:23
  • +1 I use MyFico to monitor my credit score/reports. When I initially learned about it (years ago), it was marketed as the only service that provides your "real" FICO score. In the years since that time I've learned that while that's better than some scores, there's no such thing as an absolute score. Nonetheless the service is fairly cheap and convenient, so I've kept it (more for the monitoring service than for any sense of "real"-ness). – dg99 Mar 12 '15 at 16:28
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It is common for credit scores to change on a daily basis. In the span of one month, there can be a lot of changes to your account that can change your score by 50 points. Without knowing the actual details of your account, I can only guess. The simplest explanation would be your debt to credit ratio. If you recently made payments without increasing your total debt, that is one simple explanation. The other way to decrease your debt to credit ratio is to apply for and get approved for a new credit card. That increases your credit score just by the simple fact that you have more credit available thus lowering your ratio. There are other contributing factors but nothing that would raise your score by 50 points.

  • I haven't added or removed any cards within the past few months, so that's not the cause. As for the debt to credit ratio, it was actually very low at the time of the second (i.e. Mint) credit report, probably because I'd recently paid off my balances... that's why I'm so confused. – Mehrdad Mar 10 '15 at 16:42
  • When you pay off your balances, your debt to credit ratio goes down, not up, doesn't it? But I see, I didn't realize it could be off by 60 days, that could explain some things... +1 – Mehrdad Mar 10 '15 at 17:41
  • When you pay off your balances, your debt to credit ratio goes down. Your credit score goes up as a result. Remember, the timing of when you statement ends, when you pay it off, and when all this information makes to the credit bureaus can be anywhere from 1 day to 60 days. So, I don't think you should be confused. If you have NO ACTIVITY (charges, payments, etc) and your score goes up 50 POINTS, that would be confusing. The fact you paid off your balances means your credit score will rise. – Sun Mar 10 '15 at 21:22
  • Thanks for checking my wording... whenever your debt to credit ratio goes down, your will generally increase up to a certain point. – Sun Mar 10 '15 at 21:24
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At this point in time, monitoring the actual credit number reported on your credit reports is counterproductive. This is because there are many algorithms of scores that you get to see, the criteria those algorithms look for also change, and the score any particular lender is using may be different. It also isn't always clear which score you are seeing or using.

You need only to keep track of things adversely affecting your credit report and improve those things, as these are what potential lenders will judge you on, more so than whatever arbitrary scoring mechanism they happen to be using. This will make you more credit worthy and give you access to lower interest rates and banks will also try to woo you with more perks to get your business. But the score alone can have massive (100+ point) divergences between your credit history and other different scoring metrics, as such month to month fluctuations are just white noise in your credit eligibility or perceived ability to pay.

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