Credit Score: FICO or FAKO?

A TravelSort reader writes “I was recently declined for the SPG American Express personal card. AMEX said my FICO score from Experian was too low, but I bought a copy of my Experian score from Experian and it's 100 points higher than what AMEX says my score is. I'm mailing AMEX a copy of my higher Experian credit score, what do you think my chances are of getting the card on reconsideration?”

FICO credit scores vs. FAKO (anything that's not an actual FICO score) can be a vexing and confusing issue. The problem is that while there are many companies and Web sites purporting to monitor your credit and sell you your credit score, most of these are FAKO, and in my opinion, not worth spending money on because banks and credit issuers only use actual FICO scores, not FAKO scores.

First, let's draw a distinction between your credit report and FICO score. As a consumer, you're entitled to a free copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Transunion) once a year. You can go to for this. You can use this to check for any inaccuracies that could be negatively impacting your credit score, and you can also see all your recent hard credit pulls in case you want to check how many pulls resulted from recent credit card applications.

Equifax FICO Score

  • Score Watch from MyFico offers a free 10 day trial, and you can use this to see your actual Equifax FICO score.
  • If you've already used up your free MyFico trial, you can purchase your Equifax FICO score from Equifax for $14.95 (make sure to cancel so you don't get billed than the $14.95 for the first month). 


Transunion FICO Score

  • The Score Watch free trial doesn't give you your Transunion FICO score; for that, you'd need to purchase FICO Quarterly Monitoring for $4.95 per month, 3 month minimum. See the MyFico product comparison.


Experian FICO Score

  • Unfortunately there is no easy way to see your Experian FICO without a hard pull from applying for credit or a loan. Only a few folks in Pennsylvania who are members of the PSECU Credit Union are able to see their Experian FICO score for free, but chances are you're not eligible to become a member of PSECU.

Note that the scores sold by Experian and Transunion are in fact FAKO so unfortunately in the case of this reader, the Experian credit score is not his true Experian FICO, it's FAKO.


What's the Relationship Between FAKO Credit Scores and FICO Credit Scores?

Unfortunately there isn't one. The only way to really know your true FICO credit score is to get your Equifax and Transunion FICO scores as described above, and to get your Experian FICO after applying for a loan or credit.


So Experian Doesn't Provide a True Experian FICO Credit Score?

Nope, only a FAKO credit score, most likely for economic reasons: it's more expensive to provide true FICO scores as the credit bureau must pay FICO. Here's what the Experian site says (in very small font of course) if you click on the “Learn more” link at the bottom right of the home page: “The PLUS Score, with scores ranging from 330 to 830, is a user-friendly credit score model developed by Experian to help you see and understand how lenders view your credit worthiness. It is not used by lenders, but it is indicative of your overall credit risk. Higher scores represent a greater likelihood that you’ll pay back your debts so you are viewed as being a lower credit risk to lenders. A lower score indicates to lenders that you may be a higher credit risk.”

What About CreditKarma–FICO or FAKO Credit Scores?

Also FAKO credit scores.


Which FICO Score Will the Bank I'm Applying to for Credit Cards Use?

It depends on the bank and your geographical location. As we noted in How Many Credit Inquiries or Hard Pulls is Too Many? you can use the Credit Pulls database to get a sense of which credit bureau the bank in question is likely to pull from. Note that in large states the bank may pull differently in one city vs. another. And keep in mind that sometimes a bank will pull from two credit bureaus, or in the case of Capital One (which I *never* recommend getting credit cards from) all three.


If I'm Denied Credit Doesn't the Bank or Lender Have to Provide Me the Credit Score They Used to Make the Decision?

Yes, the lender does have have to provide you your credit score, but it's not required to be FICO–and often it's either FAKO or the internal one the lender uses, which is often based on FICO but tweaked with their own proprietary risk scoring methodology. Make sure to read the fine print, and if still in doubt, ask the lender the source of the score(s).


What's been your experience with FICO vs. FAKO credit scores?

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