The motivations for the person or entity asking the question are crucial to understanding which credit reporting agency or score is most accurate.

Lenders making underwriting decisions about a potential applicant want a report representing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about that person’s payment history.

Consumers seeking new borrowing accounts want to know whether a free educational score will closely match what a lender might use later when evaluating an application.

The two sets of criteria reveal some interesting insights that can help you understand how the finance industry works behind the scenes.

Most Accurate Credit Reporting Agency?

Lenders are most concerned about the most accurate credit reporting agency and consider unique criteria when deciding which one to use in connection with a new application. They face significant default risk if they approve too many people unlikely to pay back what they borrow.

One defaulted account wipes out the profit from twenty good ones. Therefore, banks and finance companies want to use the report that provides the most reliable picture of a consumer’s borrowing history when making an underwriting decision.

A familiar courtroom oath sums up their standards.

  • The truth: free from error or defect
  • The whole truth: complete information about the person
  • Nothing but the truth: does not include data about other people

Auto Loans

The application underwriting process for auto loans provides an excellent illustration for how lenders perceive the accuracy of the big-three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Most frequently, auto lenders choose to pull the bureau report with the most comprehensive data in a specific geographic region. They prioritize the whole truth because counting the average number of entries is simple, whereas rooting out errors and data from other people is complicated.

For example, counting the number of hard inquiries is straightforward and serves as the primary tiebreaker. These entries appear only on the file of the furnishing bureau and make for a significant differentiator.

Display EquifaxDisplay ExperianDisplay TransUnion

Pull Equifax

X

 

 

Pull Experian

 

X

 

Pull TransUnion

 

 

X

Mortgage Lenders

The most precise credit reporting agency has an entirely different significance to lenders involved in reviewing a home loan application. Conforming mortgages require a tri-bureau merged report, which combines the data from all three providers into a single file.

Government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac emphasize completeness. They demand that mortgage lenders use all three bureaus to avoid missing any derogatory information – whether correct or incorrect, because the principal amounts at risk are substantial.

Then, mortgage lenders ignore the high and low scores and use the middle number to make their underwriting decision.

Most Accurate Credit Score Site?

Consumers are more concerned about which credit score site is most accurate because they want a reliable measure of their borrowing qualifications. Here, they want to assess how close the educational version will be to the one a lender might use when underwriting a new application.

Three reasons can cause the two numbers to be the same or way off by 100 points or more, and serve as the basis for ranking the sites.

  1. Three agencies could furnish the data (Source)
    1. The consumer uses bureau A
    2. A lender pulls agency A, B, or C
  2. Requested at two points in time (Freshness)
    1. The consumer reviews file on day 1
    2. A lender uses a real-time report later
  3. Calculated by two separate companies (Equation)
    1. VantageScore Solutions provides more educational views
    2. Fair, Isaac, and Company (FICO) support more lender uses

My FICO

Many consumers will rightfully conclude that the My FICO site offers the most accurate credit score because they present the equation that lenders use most frequently. By comparing the most important algorithm to itself, you are more likely to get a closer result.

However, you have to pay extra fees for the most precise estimates, as My FICO has a three-tier offering with unique combinations of the other closeness factors.[1]

BasicAdvancedPremier

Source

Experian

All 3

All 3

Freshness

1 Month

3 Months

1 Month

Equation

FICO 8

FICO 8

FICO 8

Free Scores

One can argue that sites offering the Vantage credit scores free are less accurate because lenders use the FICO alternative more frequently when evaluating applications for new borrowing accounts.

However, the insights you glean from Vantage remain useful because the factors driving your result are very similar. Regression equations follow where the data leads them. Plus, you can find at least one instance where the sources and freshness factors provide an advantage.

Credit Karma

It appears that Credit Karma offers the most credible free credit score service. Of the companies providing this type of product, it is the only one that includes two bureau sources combined with updates every seven days. [2]

  • Source: Equifax, TransUnion
  • Freshness: 7 Days
  • Equation: Vantage 3.0

CreditWise

CreditWise, the CapitalOne tracker app, provides free credit scores that appear less reliable than other services. First, they source the result from only one bureau, and their website does not provide direct answers about their update frequency.[3]

  • Source: TransUnion
  • Freshness: Undisclosed
  • Equation: Vantage 3.0

Mint

Mint offers a free credit score but does not publish any information on its website about the agency sources or the update frequency.[4] Therefore, we cannot make a statement about how credible the educational ratings will be.

  • Source: Undisclosed
  • Freshness: Undisclosed
  • Equation: Vantage 3.0

Credit Sesame

Credit Sesame provides a free score option for consumers satisfied with a result from a single bureau, updated once per month. Of course, people wanting a more precise estimate can enroll in one of the paid subscriptions, which feature all three bureaus and more frequent refreshes.[5]

  • Source: TransUnion
  • Freshness: Monthly
  • Equation: Vantage 3.0

Footnoted Sources:

[1] My FICO Product Tiers

[2] Credit Karma

[3] CreditWise from Capital One

[4] Intuit Mint

[5] Credit Sesame Updates