FICO vs. FAKO: Are You Being Told Your Real Credit Score?


For a long time, FICO was the only type of credit scoring model available to lenders. In the late 1950s, Fair Isaac and Company began offering their system to a few lenders. By the late 1980s, it had been rolled out more widely for general use.

woman reading

Since FICO scores were the only credit scores lenders used for quite some time, any other type of credit score marketed to consumers was deemed a “FAKO” score.

Other credit scoring companies are trying to compete with the almighty FICO. However, most lenders still use FICO when determining your creditworthiness. FAKO scores can still be educational and add value when you’re working on improving your credit.

Whether you want to increase your credit score for the future or have specific financial goals, you should know how credit scores are calculated. If you are monitoring your credit score, you should also know which are the most accurate.

What is a FICO score?

FICO scores use a complex calculation to weigh the information on your credit report. The outcome is a number that tells lenders how creditworthy you are based on your credit history. FICO rates consumers from low to high on a scale of 300 to 850.

Weighted categories include your payment history, amount of debt, length of credit, credit mix, and new credit. When most people think of credit scores, the classic FICO model is usually what comes to mind.

However, as the company has grown over the years, FICO has begun to offer even more credit scoring options. As a result, there are now over 50 different types of credit scores that lenders can request just through FICO alone.

Depending on what type of loan you’re applying for, lenders can get FICO scores specific to mortgages, vehicles, credit cards, and more. In each credit scoring model, your information is weighed differently to determine how likely you are to repay your debt, specific to the type of loan you’re requesting.

What are the other credit scoring models?

FICO was the country’s first. In fact, for a long time, it was the only one. However, several companies have since created similar calculations to determine consumers’ credit scores and compete in this space.


VantageScore is a consumer credit rating product created by the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It used to have a different scale, but in 2013 it switched its rating system to have the same range as FICO. This helps consumers easily compare their credit scores between the two.

Most of the categories of information used by VantageScore are the same as FICO’s, but they are weighted slightly differently. For example, VantageScore weighs payment history as 40% of your credit score, compared to FICO’s 35%. It also breaks down the way you use your credit a little more specifically than FICO does.

One of the reasons behind VantageScore’s increasing popularity is that you can access it for free through several credit report websites. In addition, more than 1,300 lenders use it throughout the country. Your VantageScore can give you an idea of what your lender will see based on what’s on your credit report.

According to VantageScore, many major financial institutions, credit card companies, and auto lenders use its scoring model. Other companies also offer credit scores, although FICO remains the most popular, even compared to VantageScore.

What is a FAKO score?

Many people consider anything that’s not a FICO score to be a FAKO score. This is because 90% of lenders use FICO when evaluating loan and credit card applications.

In total, there are close to 80 different credit scores that lenders can use to assess your credit. Not only that, but many websites that offer free “educational” scores also don’t use the same algorithm as any of the credit scores used by lenders. The most popular one is Credit Karma.

Sites like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are typically considered FAKO scores because the credit score they give you is not likely to be the same number that your lender uses. As a result, FAKO scores can offer helpful guidance in finding out what general range your credit score is in. However, you might be surprised (and potentially disappointed) when you apply for a loan, and your FICO score is lower than you anticipated.

How do I know which credit score my lender will use?

It’s impossible to know which credit score your lender will use unless you specifically ask. Even then, FICO offers dozens of different credit scoring models. So, you might not know which specific one your lender plans to look at.

Even after selecting a specific credit scoring model, you still have three separate credit scores — one from each major credit bureau. For example, if your lender pulls a classic FICO score, they will receive FICO scores from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Your lender then decides which number to use when approving your application and offering interest rates. They typically use the middle number or, if two credit scores are the same, the number that occurs twice. Here are a couple of examples:

  • If your three credit scores are 640, 660, and 670, the lender will use 660—the middle credit score.
  • If your credit scores are 720, 740 and 740, the lender will use 740—the credit score that occurs twice.

If you’re applying for a loan (such as a mortgage) with a spouse, the lender uses the same method but only considers the lower borrower’s numbers. You’re only as strong as your weakest link when applying for a loan with more than one person!

Is my credit score is good enough for a loan?

Even if you don’t know the exact number your lender may see, it can still be quite helpful to look at an educational “FAKO” score. When you know where your credit score falls, you can generally get an idea of what type of credit and interest rates you could be approved for.

A difference of 10 or 20 points isn’t a huge deal unless you’re on the verge of bumping up or down into a new category. Your credit score ranges from bad to excellent, so you can get a sense of where you fall on this scale.

FICO Credit Score Categories

  • 300-629 = bad
  • 630-689 = fair
  • 690-719 = good
  • 750+ = excellent

Using an educational FAKO score can be especially helpful if you don’t know your credit score. However, if you’ve been tracking your number and actively trying to increase it, then FAKO scores might be a little less valuable.

Tracking Your Progress

Yes, you can track your progress, but you might not know exactly when you reach a specific threshold you’re aiming for. But this is virtually impossible anyway since even the credit score pulled by your lender will vary depending on each credit report from the three separate credit reporting agencies.

Another factor to consider is that your credit score is likely to change each time you access it because your credit usage is continually evolving. For example, it will rise slightly as you continue to make timely payments and your credit history changes.

It might also drop a bit if you’ve had hard inquiries on your credit report. So it isn’t easy to pinpoint your exact credit score in advance of getting a loan because it’s going to vary each time it’s pulled.

How can I get my FICO score?

Screenshot of

Whenever you apply for a loan, lenders are required to send you a copy of the credit reports and credit scores they used to determine your approval, rates, and terms.

Oftentimes, this is your true FICO score since that is what most lenders look at. But if you want to see your FICO score outside the loan application process, you’ll either have to pay for it or go through other channels.


The most straightforward (and expensive) method is to purchase your FICO scores through You have two options when using this website. The first is to sign up for monthly credit monitoring services, with plans starting at $29.95. The other is to request a one-time copy of your FICO score.

You pay either $19.95 for your FICO score from just one credit bureau or $59.85 for all three. There’s no discount for buying in bulk, so it’s best to assess what you’re really looking for with this information.

Credit Card Issuers

There are a few other ways to access your FICO scores for consumers who don’t want to pay. Many credit card companies give members access to FICO’s Score Open Access, where you can regularly look at your FICO score. Check with your card company or see if it’s on this list to see if you are eligible for this perk.

Other organizations offering this service include Sallie Mae’s Smart Option student loans, some auto loan financiers, many credit unions, certain banks, and even credit counselors. Ask any financial institution you’re a member of to find out how to access your FICO score for free.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a personal finance writer who strives to equip readers with the knowledge to achieve their financial objectives. She has over a decade of experience and a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.