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A credit score in the United States is a number representing the creditworthiness of a person, the likelihood that person will pay his or her debts.
Lenders, such as banks and credit card companies, use credit scores to evaluate the potential risk posed by lending money to consumers. Widespread use of credit scores has made credit more widely available and less expensive for many consumers.
The FICO score is the best-known and most widely used credit score model in the United States. It was first introduced in 1989 by FICO, then called Fair, Isaac, and Company. The FICO model is used by credit reporting bureaus such as Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to produce a FICO score. Because a consumer's credit report may contain different information at each of the bureaus, FICO scores can vary depending on which bureau provides the score.
Credit scores are designed to measure the risk of default by taking into account various factors in a person's financial history. Although the exact formulas for calculating credit scores are secret, FICO has disclosed the following components:
Getting a higher credit limit can help your credit score. The higher the credit limit on the credit card, the lower the utilization ratio average for all of your credit card accounts. The utilization ratio is the amount owed divided by the amount extended by the creditor and the lower it is the better your FICO rating, in general. So if you have one credit card with a used balance of $500 and a limit of $1,000 as well as another with a used balance of $700 and $2,000 limit; the average ratio is 40 percent ($1,200 total used divided by $3,000 total limits). If the first credit card company raises the limit to $2,000; the ratio lowers to 30 percent; which could boost the FICO rating.
There are other special factors which can weigh on the FICO score.
There are several types of FICO score: generic or classic, bankcard, personal finance, mortgage, installment loan, auto, and NextGen score. The generic or classic FICO score is between 300 and 850, and 37.2% of people had between 750 and 850 in 2012. According to FICO, the median FICO score in 2006 was 723, and 711 in 2011. The FICO bankcard score and FICO auto score are between 250 and 900. The FICO mortgage score is between 300 and 850. Higher scores indicate lower credit risk.
Each individual actually has 49 credit scores for the FICO scoring model because each of three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, has its own database. Data about an individual consumer can vary from bureau to bureau. FICO scores have different names at each of the different credit reporting agencies: Equifax (BEACON), TransUnion (FICO Risk Score, Classic) and Experian (Experian/FICO Risk Model). There are three active generations of FICO scores: 1998, 2004, and 2008. Consumers can get their generic FICO score for Equifax (version of 2004), TransUnion (version of 1998), and Experian (version of 2008) from the FICO website (myFICO), and also their generic FICO score for Equifax (named Score Power) in the website of this credit bureau. Other types of FICO scores cannot be obtained by consumers. Some credit cards offer a free monthly FICO score to their cardholders.
The NextGen Score is a scoring model designed by the FICO company for assessing consumer credit risk. This score was introduced in 2001, in 2003 the second generation of NextGen was released. In 2004, FICO research showed a 4.4% increase in the number of accounts above cutoff while simultaneously showing a decrease in the number of bad, charge-off and Bankrupt accounts when compared to FICO traditional. FICO NextGen score is between 150 and 950.
Each of the major credit agencies market this score generated with their data differently:
Prior to the introduction of NextGen, their FICO scores were marketed under different names:
In 2006, to try to win business from FICO, the three major credit-reporting agencies introduced VantageScore. According to court documents filed in the FICO v. VantageScore federal lawsuit the VantageScore market share was less than 6% in 2006. The VantageScore score methodology initially produced a score range from 501–990, but VantageScore 3.0 adopted the score range of 300-850 in 2013. Consumers can get their VantageScores for Experian and TransUnion from their respective websites, and their VantageScore for Equifax from Quizzle.
CE Score is published by CE Analytics and licensed to sites like Community Empower and iQualifier.com. This score is distributed to 6,500 lenders through the Credit Plus network but is free to consumers. It has a range of 350 to 850.
The non-FICO scores are called FAKO scores by some consumers. Experian has a credit score for educational use only (Plus Score) between 330 and 830, and Experian Scorex PLUS score is between 300 and 900. Equifax has the Equifax Credit Score between 280 and 850. Some lenders use an Application Score between 100 and 990, and Credit Optics Score by ID Analytics Inc. between 1 and 999. TransUnion's TransRisk New Account Score in the website Credit Karma is between 300 and 850, and Experian National Equivalency Score in Credit Sesame and Credit.com ranges from 360 to 840. Several websites (TransUnion, Equifax, Experian, Credit Karma, Credit Sesame etc.) offer different credit scores to consumers, but not used by lenders. Innovis and PRBC are other companies that produce credit scores used by some lenders.
As a result of the FACT Act (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act), each legal U.S. resident is entitled to a free copy of his or her credit report from each credit reporting agency once every twelve months. The law requires all three agencies to provide reports: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. These credit reports do not contain credit scores from any of the three agencies.
Credit scores are often used in determining prices for auto and homeowner's insurance. Starting in the 1990s, the national credit reporting agencies that generate credit scores have also been generating more specialized insurance scores, which insurance companies then use to rate the insurance risk of potential customers. Studies indicate that the majority of insureds pay less in insurance through the use of scores. These studies point out that people with higher scores have fewer claims.
In 2009, TransUnion representatives testified before the Connecticut legislature about their practice of marketing credit score reports to employers for use in the hiring process. Legislators in at least twelve states introduced bills, and three states have passed laws to limit the use of credit check during the hiring process.
Credit scores are widely used because they are inexpensive and largely reliable, but do have their failings.
Because a significant portion of the FICO score is determined by the ratio of credit used to credit available on credit card accounts, one way to increase the score is to increase the credit limits on one's credit card accounts.
Some have blamed lenders for inappropriately approving loans for subprime applicants, despite signs that people with poor scores were at high risk for not repaying the loan. By not considering whether the person could afford the payments if they were to increase in the future, many of these loans may have put the borrowers at risk for default.
According to a Fitch study, the accuracy of FICO in predicting delinquency has diminished in recent years. In 2001 there was an average 31-point difference in the FICO score between borrowers who had defaulted and those who paid on time. By 2006 the difference was only 10 points.
Some banks have reduced their reliance on FICO scoring. For example, Golden West Financial (which merged with Wachovia Bank in 2006) abandoned FICO scores for a more costly analysis of a potential borrower's assets and employment before giving a loan.
Although Experian, a credit reporting agency, categorically states that employers do not receive credit scores, the fact that some employers have used information gleaned from credit reports (in special truncated form or otherwise) in HR decisions has drawn criticism and various states have enacted legislation curtailing or outlawing aspects of this practice.
The use of credit information in connection to applying for various types of insurance or in landlord background checks have drawn similar amounts of scrutiny and criticism. This is because the activities of finding secure employment, renting suitable accommodation and securing insurance are the basic functions of meaningful participation in modern society, and in the case of some types of auto insurance for instance, are mandated by law.