Getting Started with Credit

What does my credit score mean? Why do I need a good score? If you have questions like these, this information can help.

What Is a Credit Score?

Before we get to credit scores, let’s start with credit, in general.

Credit is your ability to borrow money or enter into agreements based on an understanding that you’ll pay the money or obligation back later. For example, you may have experienced getting your credit checked when buying a car or applying for a store credit card.

Your credit report is all of the credit-related data a credit reporting company (CRC) has gathered about you from different sources. This includes records of credit card balances and payments, auto loan payments, mortgage payments and credit inquiries. It may also include public records, such as bankruptcies.

Your credit score is used to assess your likelihood of defaulting on payments you owe (i.e., going 90 days or more without paying). A credit score is typically a three-digit number derived using a mathematical formula (called a credit scoring model) based on information included in your credit file.

Not all credit scores will be the same nor will they remain the same. Credit scores may differ from one source to the next because different lenders use different credit scoring models. And since a score is based on credit files that are frequently updated, it may vary over time. Don’t be alarmed by this. It’s entirely healthy and routine for your credit scores to change slightly.

Who Uses Credit Scores?

Different types of institutions may check your credit score for a variety of reasons.


Any institution that lends money, like banks, credit card companies, financing companies, credit unions, and mortgage lenders use a credit score, like VantageScore credit scores, to help them assess the likelihood that you will fall behind on the payment of a loan.

These institutions are likely to use your credit score as well as other information they have obtained directly from you, including your employment status and work history, how much you earn, and your planned down payment. In general, people with higher scores can get more credit at better rates.


Lenders aren’t the only ones who may use your credit score. Other companies check your credit score too. For example, credit scores are used by:

  • Landlords – When determining your ability to pay rent on an apartment and how much a security deposit will be required to sign the lease.
  • Mobile Phone Companies – When determining payment plans you are eligible for and whether or not a security deposit will be required.
  • Utility Companies – When determining whether or not to require a security deposit, and if so, how much of a deposit to require.

Where to Get Your Credit Score

Different credit scoring models produce different types of credit scores. The VantageScore model, which is widely used by lenders, helps consumers by more accurately evaluating their ability to manage debt. It also provides more consistent scores, regardless of which national CRC (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) provides your score.

Consumers interested in obtaining their VantageScore credit score can click the logos below to contact these national CRCs directly for additional information:

Call 1-888-202-4025

Call 1-888-414-1120

Call 1-866-922-2100

Additional Free Score Providers

You also can get a free credit score from other providers as part of no-cost basic subscriptions to their personal-finance services. View the Provider List