Fair Isaac, the company that created and owns what is generally known as your credit score, is suing Experian and TransUnion, two of the three credit reporting bureaus, for creating a competing product that blurs the line between the “real” credit score and the others. The third credit reporting bureau, Equifax, agreed to settle with Fair Isaac. Fair Isaac uses data from the three bureaus to determine the main credit score used by lenders, security companies, employers, landlords, and many others. This is the FICO score. Fair Isaac has also been developing a new and improved score, FICO 08, used less frequently.
After years of selling their own credit scores to customers — “FAKO” scores — the credit bureaus worked together to create VantageScore, a product to compete with the FICO score. The bureaus claim the VantageScore is more accurate for determining the credit risk of an individual, but Fair Isaac believes the credit bureaus have marketed the VantageScore as if it were the “official” FICO score and the VantageScore infringes on Fair Isaac’s copyright.
There is always an advantage to having competition in the marketplace, but in this case, competition and the lack of clear marketing creates confusion. An individual’s credit score can vary wildly from one company’s calculation to another. It’s also important for consumers to know exactly what they are buying, or even accessing for free.
Even with CreditKarma, which promises to provide your real credit score for free thanks to the support provided by advertising, there is no indication on the website to explain which credit score you are receiving. It is my understanding that CreditKarma receives the score from TransUnion, but it is unlikely they provide the FICO score used by the vast majority of lenders. If it were, CreditKarma would be advertising the fact that you can receive your FICO score for free.
Fair Isaac wants customers to go directly through Fair Issac, and only Fair Isaac, to obtain your FICO credit score. Through myFICO, Fair Isaac charges $15.95 for the “standard” FICO score, and they want to stop credit bureaus from selling or offering products that are confusingly similar to the FICO score.
Updated July 28, 2014 and originally published July 29, 2009.
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