The credit score you see is probably not the credit score your lender sees

Consumers planning to take out an auto loan or mortgage or borrow money through a personal loan should check their credit score first.

But the FICO credit score consumers see for free probably won’t be the FICO credit score lenders see.

“FICO has a bank card score that more heavily weighs credit card behaviors,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate. “There’s an auto loan-specific version that emphasizes your auto loan history. There’s a mortgage version. They are slightly different, but really the name of the game is the same.”

For example, the base FICO score ranges from 300 to 850, but the range for auto loans is 250 to 900.

Consumers can buy a copy of industry versions of their credit report, but it is not worth it, since however nuanced those reports are, the standard FICO score seen by consumers is not going to vary significantly.

Consumers can now check their FICO score for free as often as once a week, but Rossman said that is overkill.

“Maybe at least a few times a year. Make a note. Maybe once every three months or six months. Or certainly before you are in the market for credit because there are mistakes and you want to get those errors fixed,” he said.

Building credit takes time, and for young adults just starting out with little credit history, there are free services available to consumers now that have only recently been acceptable ways of building credit histories, such as Experian’s free Experian Boost.

“They can give you credit for things like streaming services and cellphone payments and utilities and other things that haven’t traditionally counted. This can really help you, especially if you are new to credit, or if you are rebuilding after a prior misstep,” Rossman said.

There are free services that may also be able to report apartment rental history to credit reporting agencies.

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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