Free credit scores you can get online are like pumpkins in a pumpkin patch: They all sort of look the same, but really, they can be very different. They’re also everywhere.
So here you are, in this expansive garden of credit scores, and you choose the score you want to review. Is it really that different than the credit score/pumpkin that’s sitting right next to it? A pumpkin is a pumpkin, right?
I don’t really know anything about squash, but as far as credit scores go, each one is a little different. It’s a common question we get from readers — “I have a credit score of XXX. What does that mean?” The answer may be more complex than you think.
Say you find out your credit score is 670. To get a better sense of what that means, you first should find out what scoring model generated that score. For example, if you get your two free credit scores on Credit.com, you’ll see that one of them is a VantageScore 3.0, which has a scale of 300-850. On that scale, a 670 is a good credit score — it’s closer to fair than excellent, but it’s pretty good. If you can find out what scoring model was used and what the scale on that model is (you may be able to find these details through an online search), you might get an idea of what that score means.
Figuring out the score and the scale is important because while a 670 is good on a scale of 300-850, it’s not as good on a scale of 501-990, another possible credit score range. Numbers have meaning only when they’re put in perspective.
Additionally, the scale is just a guideline — lenders have their own standards. Say a lender uses a FICO score with a scale of 300-850. You may have a 670 FICO score, which is pretty good, but that lender may only approve applicants with a 720 score, which may mean you won’t be approved, even though 670 and 720 are both considered “good” credit scores. A 670 (on that 300-850 scale) is a borderline score, so small improvements or problems in your payment history could make a big difference when you’re applying for credit. It’s also important to be aware that scores fluctuate, so you want to aim for a score that is comfortably above any cutoff.
“Essentially, a good credit score gets you what you want, and if it’s not getting you what you want, you need to work on it,” said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education.
It helps to head into the pumpkin patch knowing if you’re going to eat the pumpkin or just use it for decor. Similarly, when you get a credit score, you want to be able to put it in the proper context. Here’s an overview of what qualifies as a good credit score on the commonly used 300-850 range and some other details on credit score ranges.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.