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Car buying can be exciting, particularly test drives. But when you find the model you want to purchase, it’s time for the part that’s not fun: financing. Unfortunately, unless you won the lottery, chances are you need a car loan, and that means thinking about things like your debt-to-income ratio and credit scores.

Your scores with the big 3 bureaus

Three main bureaus gather data from creditors to calculate your credit score. The three main bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Historically, each bureau would serve a different geographic area, but now they’re all nationwide. Experian and Equifax are the larger of the three and typically the ones with which most people are most familiar. However, TransUnion is equally important.

Which credit score do lenders use for car loans?

Two models calculate credit scores — FICO and VantageScore — and industry-specific models exist within each. According to Experian, the most widely used general scoring models are FICO Score 8 and 9 and VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0.

There are also several versions of FICO Auto Scores, which are based on your general score and adjusted to predict how likely you’ll repay an auto loan on time. 

Generally, auto lenders use the FICO Score 8 model. But VantageScore, which the three main credit bureaus founded, is still used quite often. In addition, sometimes lenders will use multiple models, depending upon your score and credit history, as a way to skirt restrictions to get you a loan. 

Why is your credit score different with each bureau?\

If you’re wondering the differences among the three bureaus, the answer is not much. The main difference, and really the only difference, is how they use the information in your credit report to calculate your score. They each have their own algorithms and ways they weigh your debt to generate your score. Additionally, each bureau might rely on the FICO or VantageScore model to determine your score. 

The credit score an auto lender obtains can be different from the credit score you got from an online site like Credit Karma. According to CNBC, your scores can differ for six reasons. First, depending on which scoring model and version are used, along with which bureau is used, your credit score can be different because each model and bureau have slightly different formulas they use.

Additionally, lenders are not required to report information to all three credit bureaus, so one credit report might have information the other does not. Also, the time a lender performs a credit inquiry and any errors on your report contribute to different scores.

Your credit score is a major part of determining whether you can get a car loan and a good interest rate. Dealerships want to buy a car from them, but their lenders have some restrictions for financing based on your score and debt-to-income ratio. For instance, you might get a loan even if you have a low score, but you’ll likely pay a high annual percentage rate (APR).

Don’t be afraid to ask lenders how they got your credit score and which model or bureau they used. You might not be able to request that they use a different model, but you have the right to know how your score was calculated. 


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