Credit score you pay to see may not be one lenders use

Your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your financial life, and Americans spend millions of dollars year to find out theirs. But Consumer Reports says the score you get is not necessarily the one lenders use. That can be a nasty surprise when you apply for credit.

Consumer Reports took a close look at FICO, the company that invented credit scoring. FICO alone has dozens of scoring methods. And there are hundreds of others. They can all grade the same credit profile quite differently. So Consumer Reports doesn't think it's worth it to buy your credit score.

There's federal legislation pending which would require lenders to annually disclose for free the actual the credit scores they use in assessing loans. But it's not yet law. Meanwhile, if you paid for a credit score that ended up being significantly different from a lender's you approached, Consumer Reports suggests demanding a refund, as you would with any defective product.

It is important, however, to check your full credit report regularly for possible inaccuracies. You can get your report free every year from each of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax, by going to

When you are applying for a loan, you should always ask to see the actual credit score that the lender is using, and if you think that it is too low, you should ask them to show you why. Another tip from Consumer Reports, because lenders can rate you differently, it's important to shop around for the best interest rates.

Response to the story from Anthony Sprauve, Director // Public Relations with

"All variations of the FICO Score are based on the same general purpose FICO Score. Conceptually, it's similar to a base model car and upgraded version of that base model. Both will get you from point A to point B. If a consumer focuses on good credit management habits - paying all of their bills on time every time; keeping their revolving credit balances low; and only opening new credit when necessary - they will have a good FICO Score regardless of which version a lender is using. There is always value in closely monitoring one's score, definitely more than once per year, to ensure that there are no errors and to closely track progress.

"You may want to see the myFICO Forums for examples of individuals taking charge of their credit scores and finances by closely monitoring their FICO scores."

Response from Experian:

"Credit scores are important and useful educational tools for consumers that provide an understanding of their own credit worthiness. However, credit scores will not reveal what a credit report can, which is a documented history of the financial behaviors that have led to their own current credit standing. Experian continues to encourage consumers to get a free copy of their credit report every 12 months at"