How Accurate Are Credit Score Estimators?

Did you try Bankrate’s score estimator when it was featured on the Consumerist two years ago? I did and I wondered how accurate that 12-question quiz was. Answer? Not bad.

I review a lot of services on my personal finance site and one of the recent tests I did was to check the accuracy of credit score estimators. Credit score estimators ask you about a dozen general questions to assess your creditworthiness and try to guess your credit score. It sounds ridiculous that it takes fewer than twelve questions to make an educated guess on your score but most estimators are that brief. But how accurate are they?

For this test, I retrieved my real credit score by signing up to myFICO, a credit monitoring service offered by Fair Isaac Corporation, the creator of the FICO score. They pull a real Equifax credit report and calculated a FICO Equifax credit score. My actual Equifax FICO credit score was 794.

myFICO’s Credit Estimator tool, which is the same as the Bankrate score estimator featured here two years ago, guessed that my credit score was between 725 and 775. Not bad. CreditKarma, a site that offers your TransUnion credit score using a TransUnion credit report, determined my score was 721. (The credit bureaus say that scores can vary up to 50 points between different bureaus)

The verdict? The estimators are accurate enough if you’re simply curious roughly how good your credit is (this is, of course, based on a sample size of 1). Considering they’re free and so quick to use, they are quite effective at giving you a ballpark number. If you’re planning on getting a mortgage or a car loan, you may want to get an actual credit score so you know exactly where you stand and whether you need to improve it to get a better rate. You can do this one of two says:

  • Apply for the loan and then ask the lender what your scores are: When you apply for a loan, the lender will pull your credit scores. You can simply ask them what your score is. The downside to this is that the inquiry will be a hard inquiry, resulting in a loss of a few points, and you won’t be able to do anything to improve your score even after you find out what it is because you won’t have enough time.
  • Sign up for a bureaus’ credit monitoring service: Each of the bureau has a trial service that gives you a free FICO credit score. You’d have to sign up, get your score, and then cancel or they will begin billing you something like $15 a month for their service.

If you’re simply “curious” about your score, an estimator is good enough. And remember to regularly check your credit reports using AnnualCreditReport.com because your score is based on the information in your reports and your report may have errors.

If you know your credit score and have used the estimators, how has its estimated score compared to your own?

Jim writes about personal finance at Bargaineering.

(Photo: samwilkinson)