A credit score is a numerical expression based on a level analysis of a person’s credit files, to represent the creditworthiness of an individual. A credit score is primarily based on a credit report information typically sourced from credit bureaus.
Lenders, such as banks and credit card companies, use credit scores to evaluate the potential risk posed by lending money to consumers and to mitigate losses due to bad debt. Lenders use credit scores to determine who qualifies for a loan, at what interest rate, and what credit limits. Lenders also use credit scores to determine which customers are likely to bring in the most revenue. The use of credit or identity scoring prior to authorizing access or granting credit is an implementation of a trusted system.
Credit scoring is not limited to banks. Other organizations, such as mobile phone companies, insurance companies, landlords, and government departments employ the same techniques. Digital finance companies such as online lenders also use alternative data sources to calculate the creditworthiness of borrowers. Credit scoring also has much overlap with data mining, which uses many similar techniques. These techniques combine thousands of factors but are similar or identical.
In the United States, a credit score is a number based on a statistical analysis of a person’s credit files, that in theory represents the creditworthiness of that person, which is the likelihood that people will pay their bills. A credit score is primarily based on credit report information, typically from one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Income and employment history (or lack thereof) are not considered by the major credit bureaus when calculating credit scores.
There are different methods of calculating credit scores. FICO scores, the most widely used type of credit score, is a credit score developed by FICO, previously known as Fair Isaac Corporation. As of 2018, there are currently 29 different versions of FICO scores in use in the United States. Some of these versions are “industry specific” scores, that is, scores produced for particular market segments, including automotive lending and bankcard (credit card) lending. Industry-specific FICO scores produced for automotive lending are formulated differently than FICO scores produced for bankcard lending. Nearly every consumer will have different FICO scores depending upon which type of FICO score is ordered by a lender; for example, a consumer with several paid-in-full car loans but no reported credit card payment history will generally score better on a FICO automotive-enhanced score than on a FICO bankcard-enhanced score. FICO also produces several “general purpose” scores which are not tailored to any particular industry. Industry-specific FICO scores range from 250 to 900, whereas general purpose scores range from 300 to 850.
FICO scores are used by many mortgage lenders that use a risk-based system to determine the possibility that the borrower may default on financial obligations to the mortgage lender. For most mortgages originated in the United States, three credit scores are obtained on a consumer: a Beacon 5.0 score (Beacon is a trademark of FICO) which is calculated from the consumer’s Equifax credit history, a FICO Model II score, which is calculated from the consumer’s Experian credit history, and a Classic04 score, which is calculated from the consumer’s Trans Union history.
Credit bureaus also often re-sell FICO scores directly to consumers, often a general-purpose FICO 8 score. Previously, the credit bureaus also sold their own credit scores which they developed themselves, and which did not require payment to FICO to utilize: Equifax‘s RISK score and Experian‘s PLUS score. However, as of 2018, these scores are no longer sold by the credit bureaus. Trans Union offers a Vantage 3.0 score for sale to consumers, which is a version of the VantageScore credit score. In addition, many large lenders, including the major credit card issuers, have developed their own proprietary scoring models.
Studies have shown scores to be predictive of risk in the underwriting of both credit and insurance. Some studies even suggest that most consumers are the beneficiaries of lower credit costs and insurance premiums due to the use of credit scores.
New credit scores have been developed in the last decade by companies such as Scorelogix, PRBC, L2C, Innovis etc. which do not use bureau data to predict creditworthiness. Scorelogix’s JSS Credit Score uses a different set of risk factors, such as the borrower’s job stability, income, income sufficiency, and impact of economy, in predicting credit risk, and the use of such alternative credit scores is on the rise. These new types of credit scores are often combined with FICO or bureau scores to improve the accuracy of predictions. Most lenders today use some combination of bureau scores and alternative credit scores to develop better understanding of a borrower’s ability to pay. It is widely recognized that FICO is a measure of past ability to pay. New credit scores that focus more on future ability to pay are being deployed to enhance credit risk models. L2C offers an alternative credit score that uses utility payment histories to determine creditworthiness, and many lenders use this score in addition to bureau scores to make lending decisions. Many lenders use Scorelogix’s JSS score in addition to bureau scores, given that the JSS score incorporates job and income stability to determine whether the borrower will have the ability to repay debt in the future. It is thought that the FICO score will remain the dominant score, but it will likely be used in conjunction with other alternative credit scores that offer other pictures of risk.
Americans are entitled to one free credit report in every 12-month period from each of the three credit bureaus, but are not entitled to receive a free credit score. The three credit bureaus run Annualcreditreport.com, where users can get their free credit reports. Credit scores are available as an add-on feature of the report for a fee. If the consumer disputes an item on a credit report obtained using the free system, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the credit bureaus have 45 days to investigate, rather than 30 days for reports obtained otherwise.
Alternatively, consumers wishing to obtain their credit scores can in some cases purchase them separately from the credit bureaus or can purchase their FICO score directly from FICO. Credit scores (including FICO scores) are also made available free by subscription to one of the many credit report monitoring services available from the credit bureaus or other third parties, although to actually get the scores free from most such services, one must use a credit card to sign up for a free trial subscription of the service and then cancel before the first monthly charge. Websites like WalletHub, Credit Sesame and Credit Karma provide free credit scores with no credit card required, using the TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 model. Credit.com uses the Experian VantageScore 3.0 model. Until March 2009, holders of credit cards issued by Washington Mutual were offered a free FICO score each month through the bank’s Web site. (Chase, which took over Washington Mutual in 2008, discontinued this practice in March, 2009.)Chaseresumed the practice of offering a free FICO score in March, 2010 of select card members to the exclusion of the majority of former WAMU card holders.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a consumer is entitled to a free credit report (but not a free credit score) within 60 days of any adverse action (e.g., being denied credit, or receiving substandard credit terms from a lender) taken as a result of their credit score. Under the Wall Street reform bill passed on July 22, 2010, a consumer is entitled to receive a free credit score if they are denied a loan or insurance due to their credit score.
The generic or classic FICO credit score ranges between 300 and 850. The VantageScore 3.0 score ranges from 300-850. The old VantageScore was between 501 and 990.
The first step to interpreting a score is to identify the source of the credit score and its use. There are numerous scores based on various scoring models sold to lenders and other users. The most common was created by FICO and is called FICO score. FICO is a publicly traded corporation (under the ticker symbol FICO) that created the best-known and most widely used credit score model in the United States. FICO produces scoring models which are installed at and distributed by the three largest national credit repositories in the U.S (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) and the two national credit repositories in Canada (TransUnion Canada and Equifax Canada). FICO controls the vast majority of the credit score market in the United States and Canada although there are several other competing players that collectively share a very small percentage of the market.
In the United States, the median generic FICO score was 723 in 2006 and 711 in 2011. The performance definition of the FICO risk score (its stated design objective) is to predict the likelihood that a consumer will go 90 days past due or worse in the subsequent 24 months after the score has been calculated. The higher the consumer’s score, the less likely he or she will go 90 days past due in the subsequent 24 months after the score has been calculated. Because different lending uses (mortgage, automobile, credit card) have different parameters, FICO algorithms are adjusted according to the predictability of that use. For this reason, a person might have a higher credit score for a revolving credit card debt when compared to a mortgage credit score taken at the same point in time.
The interpretation of a credit score will vary by lender, industry, and the economy as a whole. While 640 has been a divider between “prime” and “subprime”, all considerations about score revolve around the strength of the economy in general and investors’ appetites for risk in providing the funding for borrowers in particular when the score is evaluated. In 2010, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) tightened its guidelines regarding credit scores to a small degree, but lenders who have to service and sell the securities packaged for sale into the secondary market largely raised their minimum score to 640 in the absence of strong compensating factors in the borrower’s loan profile. In another housing example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac began charging extra for loans over 75% of the value that have scores below 740. Furthermore, private mortgage insurance companies will not even provide mortgage insurance for borrowers with scores below 660. Therefore, “prime” is a product of the lender’s appetite for the risk profile of the borrower at the time that the borrower is asking for the loan.
Several factors affect individual’s credit scores. One factor is the amount an individual borrowed as compared to the amount of credit available to the individual. As an individual borrows, or leverages, more money, the individual’s credit score decreases.