WASHINGTON About one in five consumers is likely to receive credit scores that differ substantially from those used by lenders, according to a government study released Tuesday.
The study, by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, analyzed scores from 200,000 credit files from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax Inc. and Experian.
The discrepancies result from a variety of scoring models used by the agencies, which place consumers in different credit-quality categories 19 percent to 24 percent of the time, according to the study. About 1 percent to 3 percent of the time, the placement is off by two or more categories, the study found.
"This study highlights the complexities consumers face in the credit scoring market," the consumer bureau's director, Richard Cordray, said in a statement. "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."
Stuart K. Pratt, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Data Industry Association, pointed out that scores generated by different models provided similar results for the majority of consumers in the study. That proves that most consumers can trust the credit scores they receive, he said.
"This is good news from a consumer perspective," Pratt said. "As a consumer, I always have the power to go out and shop for credit and make sure that I have the very best interest rate or terms on a loan."
But consumer advocates said the study casts serious doubt on the accuracy of credit scores.
"What this is telling me is that the consumer doesn't have a number to rely on," said Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel for Consumer's Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. "How can a consumer manage their financial affairs if they can't rely on the score that makes a difference in the type of loan they get?"
Consumers can request annual credit reports for free at www.annualcreditreport. com, but they usually must pay to obtain their scores.
Creditors purchase credit scores to evaluate potential borrowers, but there's no way for borrowers to know whether they're seeing the same scores the creditors see.
The scores determine eligibility and interest rates for credit cards, mortgages and car loans. Landlords and employers also use credit reports to screen renters and job candidates.