Equifax and TransUnion are the two major consumer credit bureaus in Canada responsible for credit scores. Why should you care about them? Because in some ways, they hold your financial future in their hands.
When you apply for any major financial product – like a personal loan, credit card, or mortgage – lenders will ask the credit bureaus for your score, which helps them determine if they want to lend money to you. A lot rests on the strength of your credit score.
Equifax and TransUnion each calculate your credit score slightly differently. If you’ve ever checked your own credit score, and compared your scores from both credit bureaus, you might wonder why they differ from one to the other. Your Equifax score might be higher than your TransUnion score, or vice versa.
So, why are your Equifax and TransUnion scores different? Is one score more relevant than the other? What goes into their calculations? Read on to find out.
A quick primer on credit scores
Your credit score is a three-digit number between 300-900 that represents your credit history – basically, your credit score ranks how good you are at borrowing and paying back money over time.
Obviously, you want a great credit score. The higher, the better. A strong credit score gives you the best access to mortgages, loans, and credit cards, among other things. Your credit score is largely what lenders rely on when deciding if they should lend you money.
A poor score means you’re not good with lenders’ money and are unreliable with repayments. A strong score, on the other hand, means you can be trusted to borrow money and pay it back in a timely manner.
In Canada, your credit score is considered poor to fair in the 300-659 range, considered good to very good between 660-759, and is regarded as excellent between 760-900.
Why are Equifax and TransUnion scores different?
Credit bureaus do more or less the same things. They take public and reported records to generate a picture of your financial reliability, illustrated as a three-digit score. This is recorded and updated regularly, so lenders have an accurate guide to determine how much of a risk you pose as a borrower.
While Equifax and TransUnion do essentially the same thing, there are some nuances between the two that can account for score discrepancies.
Each bureau has a custom algorithm they use to calculate your score, which can produce different results. While all credit scores are based on the same criteria, the models used to record and weigh those criteria work out the numbers slightly differently.
Equifax uses data dating back 81 months (almost seven years of your financial history), while TransUnion’s model takes into account just your past 24 months (two years).
Equifax and TransUnion scores can only be as accurate as the information they receive. Some lenders only report to one credit bureau, while other lenders report to both. And even if a lender reports your credit information to both bureaus, they may do so on different dates, meaning your credit score could be up-to-date with one bureau and out-of-date with the other bureau when you check your scores.
Equifax vs TransUnion: which is most accurate?
Which is both accurate? Neither credit bureau score is more accurate or more valuable than the other. They’re just different.
Some lenders might lean towards using one bureau over the other, but that doesn’t mean a particular bureau is better than the other, it could just be lender preference. Some lenders check with both credit bureaus to make their determination of your credit worthiness.
How to check your own credit scores?
If you want to access your credit score directly from one of the credit bureaus, you may need to pay a fee around $20. (However, if you live in Quebec, you can check your TransUnion score directly from the bureau for free.)
Fortunately, there are other ways you can source the information accurately – for free.
Online fintech companies Borrowell, Intuit Credit Karma, and Mogo all offer free access to your credit scores. Borrowell and Mogo provide Equifax scores, while Intuit Credit Karma provides scores using something called the VantageScore 3.0 model (a model created in collaboration between credit bureaus).
Many Canadian banks also offer free credit score checks to their banking customers, often provided through their online app.
Which criteria matter the most for your credit score?
The credit bureaus may calculate their scores slightly differently, using different proprietary algorithms, but the criteria they consider is largely the same.
Though Equifax and TransUnion weigh these criteria differently, they’re similar. This is what they look at and how important each factor is within your overall credit score:
Your payment history makes up about one-third of the weighting in your credit score. This considers how well or badly you pay back your credit debts on accounts such as mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, lines of credit, student loans, and others. Credit scoring models consider how often you make payments on time versus late, how late your payments were, and how recently and how often you miss payments.
This factor similarly makes up about one-third of your score. This is about how much money you owe to lenders, your current debt-to-credit ratio, and your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio is a mark of how much credit you owe versus how much credit is available to you. For example, credit bureaus prefer your credit utilization to be below 35% – this means if you had a credit card with a $1000 limit, you should attempt to keep your owed balance around $350 or less.
Length of credit history
The longer you use credit responsibility, the better your score will be. Lenders like to be able to see that you’ve built a history of borrowing and repaying money, to know that you’re safe to lend to. This is why Canadian newcomers start out with low credit scores.
The number and types of credit accounts you have can impact your score. Better scores usually feature a mix of borrowing types, such as credit cards, loans, mortgages, and lines of credit.
Each time you seek a new form of credit – applying for a new credit card, a loan, or a line of credit, for example – your credit score might take a hit. When you apply for new credit, the lender will submit an enquiry to the credit bureaus to check on your credit worthiness. These are known as “hard enquiries” and can be interpreted as a sign of financial trouble. If you have many hard enquiries within a short time frame, lenders may assume you pose a lending risk.
How to improve your credit score
If you need to improve your credit score, the good news is you can. You can improve your score by paying down your debt, paying your bills in full by their due date, utilizing less than 35% of your available credit, building history by sticking with your credit cards rather than switching, and by not applying for too much new credit in a short time period.
There are also companies that can help you. And, hey, KOHO just happens to be one of them.
KOHO Credit Building
With KOHO’s Credit Building tool, you can improve your credit score pretty quickly. How it works: with the KOHO Credit Building tool, you open a no-interest line of credit and then you just need to make small repayments every month. You can build your credit score in just six months, by keeping up with regular on-time payments. It’s as simple as that.
Sam Boyer spends, invests, budgets, and writes. He enjoys writing about things he wishes he’d learned earlier — like spending, investing, and budgeting. A journalist originally from New Zealand, Sam has written extensively about consumer affairs, insurance, travel, health, and crime.