The credit scores that consumers buy from credit reporting agencies sometimes differ from the scores lenders see when deciding the terms of loans, potentially to the detriment of the consumer, a U.S. watchdog agency said on Tuesday.
About one in five consumers purchasing a credit score is likely to receive a substantially different score than a potential lender would see, according to the report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
That could lead those consumers to waste time applying for loans they cannot afford or to take out loans with worse terms than they could get if they saw the same score as the lender, the consumer agency said.
"When consumers buy a credit score, they should be aware that a lender may be using a very different score in making a credit decision," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said.
The consumer agency was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law and directed to oversee some aspects of credit cards, mortgages and other consumer products. The law also tasked the bureau with comparing credit scores sold to creditors with those sold to consumers by agencies such as TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.
The consumer bureau plans to start closely supervising about 30 of the largest credit reporting companies at the end of September. Cordray has said the industry plays an increased role in consumers' lives after the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
Credit scores are seen as a measure of the risk involved in lending to a particular consumer. They are used by banks, mortgage lenders and other institutions to determine whether to offer a loan and what interest rate to charge.
The scores are calculated using a variety of models that assess consumers' credit history. Dozens of credit models are used by lenders, and the scores for lenders are not always the same as the "educational" scores consumers buy, the CFPB said.
The CFPB analyzed 200,000 credit files from each of the three major credit reporting agencies to determine how credit scores used by consumers and lenders differ, according to the report.
For the majority of consumers, different scoring models generated similar information. But about 19 to 24 percent of the time, different models yielded scores that were meaningfully different, the report said.
The CFPB said consumers are unlikely to know about any discrepancy with their credit score.
Consumers should correct for this by shopping around for credit. Lenders offer different loan terms, and consumers should look for the best option, the consumer bureau said.
Consumers also should make sure their credit reports are accurate and report mistakes, lest their scores be based on faulty information, the CFPB said.