Why Your Credit Score Is Suddenly Not What You Thought

Credit scores are serious business. More than 4 in 10 Americans said that the three-digit number could actually sway their attraction to somebody one way or the other. Knowing what yours is can go a long way toward helping you plan for big steps in life. It's one reason millennials are so good about checking up on theirs.

Not all credit scores will come out the same, though. Sometimes you may unlock a nasty surprise, as Apartment Therapy writer Dana McMahan did in a recent story. "[O]ur loan quotes came back with a credit score I did not anticipate — one that was 70 points lower than what CreditWise had shown me," she writes. "This lower score pushed us into a different credit bracket than the 'excellent' we were relying on, meaning we wouldn't be receiving the best interest rate we had budgeted for."

It was then that McMahan discovered the difference between FICO scores, which about 90 percent of lenders use, and everyone else. The disparity in her score came from a scoring company called VantageScore, and to make things even more complicated, different creditors can collect your credit score on both FICO and VantageScore. Ask your lender which scores they're pulling, so you can budget accordingly. You might find they're using a "tri-merge credit report," if you're applying for a mortgage, which is not a score but a combination of the three major creditors' data.

If you're still looking for ways to boost your credit score, both Experian and FICO itself are introducing programs to help reward good financial behavior that are already habits.