Why Do Credit Scores Change So Much?

Credit scores are important. They gauge your creditworthiness and give lenders an accurate picture of your ability to pay back a loan. Most lenders will make their decision solely based on your credit score, which is why having a good idea of where you stand with the major credit score agencies is essential.

It is also important to note that credit scores are not the same thing as your credit report or credit history and that these scores can fluctuate from month to month depending on your credit activity.

Credit Reports vs Credit Scores

Credit scores and credit reports are related but distinct. A credit report is a detailed record of your credit history, while a credit score is a numerical representation of your creditworthiness derived from the data in your credit report. Credit scores are not typically included in credit reports provided to consumers for free and are often sold separately by credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and other providers.

The two most popular and widely used credit scoring models that are typically included with consumer credit reports are FICO Scores and VantageScore. FICO is the most recognizable and widely used credit scoring model in the U.S. and are used in 90% of lending decisions by top U.S. lenders. VantageScore models are typically provided to consumers along with credit reports from the three bureaus.

Your credit scores can change from month to month as the information in your credit reports gets updated. The scores are not permanent and are recalculated each time your credit report data changes.

Factors Influencing Credit Scores

Your credit scores will fluctuate based on changes to your credit accounts and other factors evaluated by the scoring models used by the credit bureaus. These factors include:

  1. Credit Utilization: Ratio of credit card balances to limits.
  2. Payment History: Whether you’ve made payments on time or had late/missed payments.
  3. Credit Age: How long your credit accounts have been open.
  4. Credit Mix: The types of credit accounts you have (revolving, installment, etc.)
  5. New Credit: Applications for new credit accounts resulting in hard inquiries.
  6. Derogatory Marks: Presence of negative items like bankruptcies or collections.

As this new data gets incorporated into your credit reports, it triggers a recalculation of your credit scores. Small fluctuations are normal, but major changes usually indicate a significant event impacting your credit.

Score Migration

Score migration refers to changes in credit scores over time, but the degree of fluctuation described is generally exaggerated.

A healthy score migration typically involves changes of less than 20 points per month. Large swings of 100 points or more in a single month are very rare and usually indicate a significant event like bankruptcy, default, or opening/closing multiple accounts.

Minor fluctuations of 10-20 points up or down are normal and can result from:

  • Changes in credit card balances/utilization
  • Payments made on time
  • New credit inquiries
  • Accounts being opened or closed

However, a 20-point drop solely from increasing credit utilization after a major purchase is on the higher end of a typical fluctuation.

Missed payments, new delinquencies, or other negative items will generally have a larger negative impact, but it’s unlikely for a score to drop 100 points in one month from these events alone for someone starting with a 750 score.

Similarly, paying off a significant amount of debt or having negative items age off can produce a score increase, but a 100-point gain in a single month is improbable.

The scoring models do recalculate monthly based on updates to a person’s credit report. But major swings of 100+ points in either direction over just one month are exceptionally rare for most consumers with an average credit profile. Gradual increases/decreases over several months are more common.

Other Factors Impacting Credit Score Variation

Creditors Report on Different Schedules

Creditors don’t all report to the three bureaus simultaneously. One bureau may get updated information before the others, causing your scores to be different depending on which bureau’s data is used to calculate it.

Scoring Model Differences

The scoring models used by FICO and VantageScore have different formulas that weigh the various factors differently. So the same credit report information can produce different scores from each model.

Credit Utilization Changes

One of the biggest factors that causes frequent score movements is changes in the amount of revolving credit you’re using compared to your limits (credit utilization). As your balances fluctuate, your utilization rate changes, impacting your scores.

Summary

Credit scores frequently change due to various factors such as credit utilization, payment history, length of credit history, types of credit accounts, recent credit inquiries, and negative marks like bankruptcies or collections.

These changes are influenced by when creditors report information to the credit bureaus, the scoring model used (e.g., FICO vs. VantageScore), and fluctuations in credit usage. Generally, scores might shift slightly each month, but significant changes are rare unless there are major financial events.

SmartDispute.ai Subscriber Tip:
Your monthly subscription includes both your credit report and your credit score. We use VantageScore 3.0.

One of the best features of SmartDispute.ai is that you have access to your historical credit reports and scores over the life of your subscription. This gives you an easy way to see how your credit reports and scores are changing while you go through the credit repair process.

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