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With dozens of variations of FICO credit scores, which FICO scores do mortgage lenders use? We have the answer, along with how to check your credit score.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on a refinancing binge. My wife and I have refinanced our home twice in the last 12 months, and my business partner and I are doing the same with three rental properties. With mortgage rates at an all time low, these deals were just too good to pass up. And this got me to thinking–which credit scores do mortgage lenders use to qualify people for a mortgage?

It’s an important question, as your credit score determines your mortgage rates or if you even qualify for a loan. While it’s common knowledge that mortgage lenders use FICO scores, most people with a credit history have three FICO scores, one from each of the three national credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Do lenders average the three scores, or take some other approach? And what happens when two people buy a home together? Do lenders average their scores together?

Tip: Get all 3 FICO scores from the major bureaus directly from myFICO

So I did some research on the following questions:

  • Which FICO formula (there’s more than one, unfortunately) do mortgage companies use?
  • For a single applicant, which of up to three FICO scores will be considered?
  • For spouses, significant others, or business partners, how do lenders evaluate credit worthiness?
  • And finally, what if an applicant doesn’t have FICO scores from all three credit bureaus?

Since most loans are sold to either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, I focused on the requirements for these types of loans.

Which FICO Score is Used for Mortgages

Most lenders determine a borrower’s creditworthiness based on FICO® scores, a Credit Score developed by Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO™). This score tells the lender what type of credit risk you are and what your interest rate should be to reflect that risk. FICO scores have different names at each of the three major United States credit reporting companies. And there are different versions of the FICO formula. Here are the specific versions of the FICO formula used by mortgage lenders:

  • Equifax Beacon 5.0
  • Experian/Fair Isaac Risk Model v2
  • TransUnion FICO Risk Score 04

If you want to dig into the regulations for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to see the source of this information, you can do so here and here. But be warned, it’s like trying to drink water from a fire hose.

Lenders have identified a strong correlation between Mortgage performance and FICO Bureau scores (FICO score). FICO scores range from 300 to 850. The lower the FICO score, the greater the risk of default.

Resource: Get all 3 FICO scores from the major bureaus directly from myFICO

Which Score Gets Used?

Since most people have three FICO scores, one from each credit bureau, how do lenders choose which one to use?

For a FICO score to be considered “usable”, it must be based on adequate, concrete information. If there is too little information, or if the information is inaccurate, the FICO score may be deemed unusable for the mortgage underwriting process. Once the underwriter has determined if a score is usable or not, here’s how they decide which score(s) to use for an individual borrower:

  • If all three scores are different, they use the middle score
  • If two of the scores are the same, they use that score, regardless of whether the two repeated scores are higher or lower than the third score

If it helps to visualize this information:

Identifying the Underwriting Score
ExampleScore 1Score 2Score 3Underwriting Score
Borrower 1680700720700
Borrower 2640
Borrower 3640660660660

Which Scores Are Used with Two Applicants

If there is more than one applicant, then the scores to be used for each individual are calculated as described above. Once the scores for each applicant are determined, the mortgage lender uses the lower of the two credit scores.

What If No Score is Available

In some situations, an applicant may not have a usable FICO score from one of the three credit bureaus. In that case, the mortgage lender will simply use the lower of the two scores that are available. And if two scores are not usable, they will use the one remaining score.

And since you may be wondering, if a mortgage applicant has no usable FICO scores, generally they won’t qualify for a mortgage. I say generally because there are exceptions. If you fall into this category, contact a mortgage broker to see what options you have.

Obtaining FICO Scores

If you are looking to buy or refinance your mortgage, how do you get a glimpse of your credit scores before applying? Well, one option would be to get your official FICO score from myFICO–where you can actually get credit scores from all three major bureaus.

There are a number of ways to get your free credit score, which is where I’d start. They’re not perfect, but in my experience are pretty close.

If you’re looking for an easy way to increase your score, sign up for Experian Boost™. This service is free and can see when you make your monthly payments like your utility bill and cell phone bill on time. When you do, your credit score will get a boost.
Learn More: Read our Experian Boost Review

Next Steps

Author Bio

Total Articles: 1080
Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Article comments


Very interesting article! It’s unfortunate that FICO scores are so complicated. I would advise readers to investigate if they find out one of their scores is significantly different than the others. Could be a sign of a mistake!

Usually lenders will pick the middle score as an average but this is not always the case. Some times it depends where you live. Experian, eqifax and transunion usually cover their own geographical territories.

Davud says:

The 3 major reporting agencies have no geographic coverage area. It is actually more about the lenders/creditors preference.

Miiockm says:

Hmm interesting that they would use the middle score.

Allison says:

Most mortgage lenders’ guidelines require the use of the lower/lowest of the borrowers’ middle scores. However, we have a couple of of lenders we sell to that will use the higher-earning borrower’s middle score.

You are right that those scores you get free or pay for are just generic score models. Each industry – auto business, insurance, and mortgage all have industry-specific models they use to calculate borrowers’ scores.
But seeing your score will give you a general idea of where you are in this area. Getting over certain crucial points like 680 or 720 will make your rate better or qualify you for mortgage insurance or a higher loan amount so always ask your mortgage professional if your score is a “just miss” or if they know how to help you “rescore” just a little higher with credit bureau software.

Rob Berger says:

Allison, thanks for the very helpful information. The “crucial Points” like 680 and 720 is good information to have.

EW says:

Is it necessary to use the middle score or can the highest score of the individual or the highest score of multiple borrowers be used. Is it at the banks discretion or is it a regulatory item?

chris cooke says:

yes hi my name is chris and i would like to know the actual models used for determining the scores used because my brother just went to go get a car loan and the banks denied him because the car had too many miles and also when they brought the score out it was 20 points lower than his actual score so I contacted Equifax who the score was supposedly from and they said it was not his score so we contacted the other two transunion and experian and they said that the number was not theirs either so I contacted Equifax again and a helpful assistant there told me that sometimes they meaning the people who are giving the loans sometimes add all three scores and divide by 3 to get an average and use that as your score. well when you have the name of a company in this case Equifax beside a number and that is not the actual number it becomes falsifying documents needless to say we are about to sue for falsifying documents no because we didnt get the car but because well when you get your credit scores and they are 20 to 30 points higher than what the so called smart lenders say it is and you can prove it they have no reason to deny you anything. Also its illegal to falsify documents it wouldnt be falsifying if they would just disclaim that the score they are going to use it a combination of all your scores then divided to get the average but that wasnt the case here. so anyone got any info to share i would be happy to hear anything thanks for listening

Steve says:

I linked to this site after reading an article on Forbes titled: “Which credit score do lenders actually use?” I’ve always believed that credit scores were a shell game perpetrated by the banks to be used as a tool for charging borrowers higher rates & additional fees. The Forbes article confirmed my suspicion. In addition to the myriad of problems with the 3 credit bureaus (Equifax, TU, Experian), I learned that there are more than 60 different versions of FICO scores. The explanation for so many versions is that they are tailored to different types of industries & credit needs….i.e FICO-Auto for car loans, FICO-bankcard for credit cards, etc…and even within these subcategories, lenders use different scores, reports, and combinations….all of which continue to remain unknown to the borrower. Lenders need a means for evaluating the risk of making a loan…no one disputes that. The concept of a credit score that quantifies a borrowers history of repayment is fine, however, when the credit score of one potential borrower no longer has any relative value or correlation to the scores of other borrowers, then the entire model is invalid. With so many versions of credit scores being used in so many different combinations, there is no way a credit score can be a valid tool for comparing the “creditworthiness” of potential borrowers.

Bryan Tomlin says:

Excellent explanation

Ercilia Encarnacion says:

I agree, i have different scores for each credit agency.. Its confusing, I dont think anyone can come up with a straight answer.. with all the answers here, i still dont understand.. they should come up with one formula, where scores arent so different from each other..

Alle says:

my husband and i are dealing with this now. we did our credit reports through credit karma, scoresense, and experian to get an overall of what they were. They were showing about a 25-30 point difference (being higher) from what the bank pulled for mortgage loans. How is this? With ‘credit worthiness’ being so important, and being borderline for even a conventional loan, when we pull the reports it shows we qualify but when the bank pulls it, it shows we are 15 points below requirement…. how can individuals work on their credit if it isn’t even close… something isn’t right somewhere down the line… it should be an overall accurate score when pulled as to what banks pull… doesn’t make sense to me – sounds like excuses or ways to jack up interest rates…

when banks say your score isn’t quite meeting our requirements and you pull it from home and get 650+ and minimum is 620!!!

help me understand this please.

alex says:

credit karma doesnt use the fico score model. their scores are always higher. banks use fico score. For you to get accurate fico score you can go to the myfico website and pull your scores/reports there.

Ted says:

“… their scores are always higher”
I have found this to be false. Credit Karma’s scores will not always be higher than FICO, they will often be different. Credit Karma uses VantageScore not FICO but this does not mean they will be higher, in my case my FICO score is higher than my Credit Karma score.
VantageScore is calculated differently than FICO. I have found in my dealings score sense is an out and out scam.

Michael McIntyre says:

I have watched my score on credit karma and credit karma is way lower than my fico

Kat says:

You read it wrong. He meant that the FICO scores are always higher.

Debbie says:

I have a contract on my house I’m going to buy. I just checked my credit karma and both trans union and equifax went up 30 plus on both. Yet my mortgage company says not true. What the crap is this all about???????

Griselda pinto says:

Same story here i apply for a kb home and they tell me they use the second fico score and it was the lowest i had and they denied me

Lindsey says:

Because credit karma does not use the FICO scoring system. They use the vantage score.

Chris says:

As I am currently applying for a mortgage, I compared the lender reported credit score (744) with those available from the account management companies such as Credit Karma or Mint. The lender’s score is bar far the lowest.

Mortgage lender reported FICO (Equifax) 744

Credit Karma Transunion 777
Credit Karma Equifax 792
Mint Transunion 777
Credit Sesame Transunion Vantage 3.0 776

Discover Transunion FICOSCORE 8 833
AMEX FICO Score 8 based on Experian 799
Priceline FICO Credit Score 838
Chase Transunion 777

Average Credit Information 781
Average Credit Cards 812

Overall almost 40 / 70 points lower than what’s reported by other agencies. So either mortgage lenders like to lowball, to charge higher rates, or other agencies really don’t understand the FICOScore calculation.

Deanna says:

Thank you. I’m preparing to refinance and I couldn’t figure out why my Discover FICO was so much higher than the Credit Karma… I’m going to have to request that the hard inquiries be removed that are older than two years and pay down some more debt which I had already planned… Thank you

Needjah says:

I have been working with an organization to clean up my credit to purchase a home. I subscribed to Experian and TU directly rather than using Credit Karma (they use a Vantage scoring system) or some other free site. I thought this would give me a more accurate picture. Unfortunately what I have found is the credit score that I am paying monthly to get alerted about means absolutely NOTHING! While I have seen that score steadily rise, I was told that number is irrelevant. Apparently there are different FICO scores for mortgages, bank loans, credit cards, auto loans, etc. There is a 70 point difference between the credit score Experian reports as my score versus the mortgage score lenders will actually use. Of course that swing is not in my favor……Also if my score increases by 15 points, that does not mean the other FICO scores are going to increase 15 points as well.

So my question is, what in the world is that “main”credit score, given to consumers when they login to the three main credit bureaus, used for? I feel it is a way of delivering false information an certainly false hope. Rather than highlight a number no one uses…..they should bring to front the scores ACTUALLY being used by lenders, instead of burying them where folks won’t go looking!!!

WORTHLESS!!! Needless to say I have cancelled both of those monitoring subscriptions!

Moral of my message, when you check your credit scores, whether it be from Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, or the three bureaus directly, understand those numbers are not what lenders use to evaluate credit applications.

Steven Alardi says:

Experian also has an area that give you additional Fico scores Like the version that the lenders for mortgages use mine was actually 50 points higher then the fico score 8

Jennifer G says:

Be ware: Experian will not necessarily cancel you. I had to cancel and be refunded FOUR times AND threaten legal recourse to get them to stop. They assume if you have less than stellar credit you also are not closely monitoring your credit card charges.

John Payne says:

Did u find out how to get the score that mortgage lenders use? How did u find this?

VW79 says:

I personally believe that there should be a class action suit brought against the whole credit scoring system. It’s hard for consumers to work on their credit and pay various companies to monitor their credit and provide accurate information just to find out when you apply for something it’s no the same scoring system. It seems unfair and has caused many people to waste money on unhelpful info.

Frank D says:

Well I live in California and the lender working with me helped me with my credit so I could get a house. He told me to make sure my credit cards were low balance of at least 10%. I was also told that they use the middle score for the loan. I don’t remember my score but I think it was like 650 and I got FHA loan with 3.65 interest rate. Hope this helps

Margaret says:

This helps me a lot! Thank you ! Now, if I can only figure out how much of a mortgage I would qualify for before applying for a mortgage loan.

justauser says:

Well, I see a lot of comments on what is the real score, and a lot of users posting different scores from different platforms. The reason behind this (which was not mentioned in the article) is that while there are indeed different scores from each agency/organization, there also exist different scores WITHIN the same organization. FICO-8, FICO-9, Vantage-2, Vantage-3, etc. are examples. These are all different scoring systems which give different amount of importance to the same kind of events. For example, a medical collection account would bring down your score in FICO-8, it would not have any impact on your FICO-9 score, because with the newer model, the makers realized that having a medical collection shouldn’t be counted in your credit behavior on humanitarian basis, as even the most prudent and honest individual with low scores will not hesitate to go to a big expensive hospital if that’s where was the only hope to his treatment. So, it all depends upon not just the organization, but also the model/formula which is used to derive your score. As of writing this, most lenders, IMHO, use the FICO-9 model, which is shown by Wells Fargo (my guess is many others may be showing that score, by amongst the organizations that I have an account with, including Chase, Discover, Mint, and Wells Fargo, Experian, TransUnion), WF is the only one showing FICO-9. So if you have an account with WF, please only consider the score that they are showing, and disregard everything else.

John says:

I am rebuilding my credit after my student loan autopay stopped paying automatically. (They updated their services and kicked my autopay out) So my score dropped 85 points. Killed me!!! I have since payed off all of my Credit Cards, Consolidated my student loans and now my score went up 103 points on Equifax and 64 points on Transunion. Experian has not updated yet but shows my FICO 8 as the lowest 624. The others show 655 TU and 644 EQ. So my middle score would be 644. The issue is, unless you are over 680 on all your scores, you will not qualify for a Mortgage based on their scoring model. Most low interest Credit Cards start at 720 and up. My goal is to have a 740 before I try an purchase a home so I know my scores will be high enough. THis gives me time to save too.
My Vantage Scores and my FIco 8 Scores are showing the exact same #’s. I am using IdentityIQ.com for my monthly updates (as per my lender’s and Credit Assistant suggestion) So far it’s the most accurate for Mortgage scores, as my Mortgage lender said. That is the Company they use to pull your scores from.
Good luck. It’s a hard road rebuilding your credit, But you can do it. It just takes time and money. The two things we never have enough of.