Many of us have heard about how important credit scores are when it comes to getting ahead financially. If you want the best deals on insurance rates, and the lowest mortgage rate possible, you need to have a good credit score. Your credit score can affect other financial offers that you receive, and your credit history (but not your score) can even affect your job prospects in some cases.

As a result, it has become popular to check credit scores regularly. When managing your finances online, you can sign up for sites like Quizzle and Credit Karma to get free access to your consumer scores. These sites are helpful, but they don’t actually tell you the real story with your credit score. What you see is different from what the bank sees. While these free credit scores can give you a rough idea of where you stand, and what direction your credit is headed, they won’t provide you with the same information that banks and other financial services providers use to make decisions.

What About Paid Credit Scores?

It only makes sense to think that paid credit scores should provide you a more accurate look at how your situation appears to banks and other creditors. Can you get a more accurate score if you pay one of the credit bureaus for your score? Maybe.

Credit bureaus often offer what are considered “consumer scores.” For example, you can go to the Experian web site and pay for a Plus score (or you can get it free through FreeCreditScore.com, but watch out for signup requirements). However, if you read carefully, you will find that your Plus score is not used by lenders.

Other credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion might not be the scores used by lenders, either. So paying for these scores might not be your best option — especially since they might not be much more accurate than the free scores you can get off other sites.

Now, of course, attention turns to the FICO score. FICO says that 90% of the top 100 banks use the FICO score when making decisions. However, what you see when you head over to myFICO.com and pay for your FICO score might not be the same thing that financial institutions see when they pull your credit. This is because FICO is selling you a consumer credit score.

This is a different credit score than the different scores that FICO sells to lenders and others. Indeed, FICO has a number of different versions of its score that it sells. There are tweaks made to scores for mortgage purposes, for car loan purposes, and for other types of loans. It isn’t one score fits all loans. There are custom and proprietary scores sold to lenders, and the exact formulas aren’t realsed.

Bottom Line: The consumer credit score you see, whether it’s free or you purchase it, is not going to be the same thing that bank and other financial services providers see. However, you can still get an idea of where you stand, and see what areas might need improvement.