Don't get me wrong: Your credit standing is extremely important. And you'd better care about it if you like saving money. But as long as you're monitoring your standing with the help of a reputable score, neither how it's branded nor what version it happens to be really matters.
That's very important to understand because many people mistakenly believe they only have one "real" credit score. However, a single person can have more than 1,000 different scores, according to Experian, each of which is as real as the next.
In addition to illustrating that the term "credit score" is perhaps far more general than you might have thought, the sheer number of options available to consumers and creditors alike should tell you that no single version is all that special. But in case you aren't yet convinced, here are a few additional factors to consider:
1. Each Score Produces Three Results: With hundreds of different credit-score models in use, the odds of finding the exact one used by your lender of choice are quite small. But you won't even have it that easy because there are three different scores produced by each model, one for each major credit bureau: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Their reports contain largely the same information and major lenders often use all three, but their differences do result in discrepancies and you'll never really know how a particular lender performs its underwriting.
2. Lenders Have Their Own Credit Scores: Even if you identify the exact type of credit score used by a given lender, down to the credit report, you're still going to be missing one thing: the secret sauce. You see, most major lenders wind up using proprietary credit-scoring formulas, which are derived from one or more publicly available scores but modified with in-house analytics, to evaluate the creditworthiness of applicants. That means no over-the-counter credit score can exactly replicate what lenders use
3. Income & Assets Aren't Reflected In Any Credit Scores: Lenders certainly care about how responsible you've been paying your bills, but they care equally as much about how your income and assets compare to current and upcoming debt obligations. And that information cannot be found in a credit score, which means credit scores should only receive a portion of your attention.
The ultimate trump card in any discussion about credit-score specificity is that all credit scores are based on the information in your three major credit reports. As long as you have access to that information -- which you do through the likes of AnnualCreditReport.com and WalletHub -- your main focus should be ensuring that it's entirely accurate. Credit-report mistakes are common, after all, and the early signs of fraud can often be detected with these reports.
With that in mind, free credit monitoring might be even more important than a credit score of any type. But when it comes to credit scores, two things are ultimately paramount: actually checking them and doing so for free. If you meet those objectives, you'll be way ahead of the game.
Odysseas Papadimitriou is CEO of the personal-finance website WalletHub, which offers free access to your VantageScore, full TransUnion credit reports and 24/7 credit monitoring.