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Basics of FICO, finance, Investing >> Ask-A-Desi (Finance) // Finance >> Articles

Fair Isaac Corporation (NYSE: FICO) provides analytics and decision making services—including credit scoring -intended to help financial services companies[citation needed] make complex, high-volume decisions. - Wikipedia

Investopedia explains FICO Score: Using mathematical models, the FICO score takes into account various factors in each of these five areas to determine credit risk: payment history, current level of indebtedness, types of credit used and length of credit history, and new credit.

A person's FICO score will range between 300 and 850. In general, a FICO score above 650 indicates that the individual has a very good credit history. People with scores below 620 will often find it substantially more difficult to obtain financing at a favorable rate.

Articles of interest:: Anatomy Of A Credit Score // How Fair Is Fair Isaac? (By Jane Black)

Anatomy Of A Credit Score

More companies are looking at ratings -- so managing them is crucial

During a shopping spree a few months ago, I opened several retail credit-card accounts to take advantage of an immediate 10% discount on that day's purchases. Surely this familiar offer was risk-free as long as I paid my bills on time, right? It wasn't until I reported this story that I found out my credit score could have been negatively affected by the spate of new accounts I opened in such a short time. I had no idea.

Many people are ignorant of what their credit score is, how they can hurt or help that score, and how it can be used against them. Some 49% of 1,013 consumers polled do not understand that credit scores measure credit risk, according to a 2005 survey by the Consumer Federation of America and Fair Isaac Corp., the company that created the most widely used credit score formula called FICO.

Lenders have used these scores for years to determine whether to grant you a loan and what interest rate you'll pay. "Credit scores are very powerful predictors of consumers' future [bill-paying] performance," says Mike Fratantoni, a senior research director at the Mortgage Bankers Assn. But with the rise of technology that can automatically assess consumer creditworthiness while you wait, FICO scores are now requested by insurance companies, cell-phone providers, utilities, landlords, and even prospective employers. That's a reason to make managing your FICO score a priority.

But first, just what is a credit score? To come up with one, Fair Isaac uses 22 pieces of data collected from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian , and TransUnion) to calculate a credit score -- 300 is the lowest, 850 the highest. The final number is a composite that comes from individual ratings in five categories: payment history (35% of the rating); length of credit history (15%); new credit (10%); types of credit used (10%); and debt (30%). Income is not a factor. "A person can have a very high income and never pay their bills," said Craig Watts, public affairs manager for Fair Isaac.

Fair Isaac calculates a FICO score based on the data provided by each credit bureau. It's not uncommon to see up to a 50-point differential between ratings. The reason: Bureaus collect data at different times of the month, or one bureau may have inaccurate information.

The higher the score, the lower the risk you are to a creditor -- and the less interest you'll pay. Only 13% of the population has FICO scores of 800 or above; the median is 723. There is no single cut-off for loans, and it varies from industry to industry. But generally borrowers with scores above 740 receive the best rates.

To see how a change in your FICO score affects how much you'll pay, consider this example. On a $350,000, 30-year fixed mortgage, you'll pay 6.24% in interest, or $2,153 a month if you score between 720 and 850. If your score drops to between 620 and 674, your interest rate jumps to 8.05%, and your monthly cost rises to $2,581. You will pay an additional $154,131 over the life of the loan, according to a calculator on

Want a peek at your FICO scores? Many people think they can get their FICO scores from their credit reports. They can't -- but it's still a good place to start. The Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 entitles you to a free credit report from each major credit bureau once a year. I ordered my reports by telephone from and received them all within 10 days. It's smart to request a report from a different agency every four months so you stagger the reports over a year. That way, if there's bad information in one, you'll spot it sooner.

When you request a free credit report, each bureau will offer to calculate a credit score for $6.95. Experian and TransUnion use proprietary formulas; Equifax uses FICO scores. Pass up these offers because the information is not as comprehensive as you'll get elsewhere, and lenders are less likely to look at these scores.

For the most detailed explanations on your FICO scores, go to A score from one credit bureau costs $14.95, all three are $44.85. It's useful to buy all three because large lenders either average the scores or take the middle one. You'll want to check your FICO scores once a year or several months before you apply for a loan.

The negative factors that bring your score down remain on your credit report for seven years and can adversely affect your FICO score. But lenders typically look back only in the past two years when they make credit decisions. One 30-day late payment shouldn't make a difference. Lenders look for trends.

I paid for three scores and anxiously waited while the computer calculated them on the spot. Within seconds, I was relieved (not to mention a bit proud) when 771, 751, and 738 popped up on my screen. Still, I wondered why I wasn't in the 800-plus range. To find out, I reviewed the various strategies credit experts recommend to raise FICO scores.

Pay all bills on time. This is probably the most important factor in the FICO calculation. If you're consistently 30 days overdue, your score can drop by as much as 100 points, depending on how long the account has been open and how long ago the late payment took place. To avoid late payments, consider automating your bill-paying process. I got high marks in this arena.

Think twice before closing accounts. Lenders are looking for consumers with long credit histories that have been managed well. But because of the increase in identity theft, you don't want too many open accounts that you don't use. "Be judicious about the accounts you have," says Norm Magnuson, public affairs officer for the Consumer Data Industry Assn. In an effort to consolidate our finances, I canceled an American Express account I had for 20 years to become an authorized user on my husband's account. While I benefit from his 20-year credit history on that account, it was still a mistake to eliminate my own. I have a few cards in my name only, but the history isn't as long.

Minimize credit-card applications. Bingo. That was cited as a problem on all three of my FICO scores. On average, a consumer has a total of 11 credit obligations, of which seven are credit cards and four are loans. I had 21, of which six had balances. Each time you apply for credit, a lender requests to view your report. This inquiry is noted and can reduce your overall score. Don't apply for unnecessary credit, and if you're in the market for a big-ticket item that requires a loan, avoid credit applications for 18 months prior to your purchase.

Keep balances low. The FICO score evaluates your total balances in relation to your available credit. This is known as credit utilization. Credit cards that are "maxed out" can lower your score. Try to spend only 30% of your credit limit. If you have a $10,000 limit on one card, keep the balance near $3,000. My credit utilization was too high. It helps that I pay off my balances every month, but it is better to spread the spending.

While my FICO reports said that "most lenders would consider consumers in this score range as extremely low risk," the competitive spirit in me wants to get over the 800 mark. To that end, I recently refrained from signing up for a Target Stores credit card to get $10 off on a $100 purchase.

Article source: BusinessWeek

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How Fair Is Fair Isaac? (By Jane Black)

The secrecy surrounding the company's proprietary credit-scoring system is sparking a firestorm of criticism -- and legislative action

When Elizabeth Alexander opened a letter from her auto insurer, Pemco, last January, she got a nasty shock. Her rates had been raised by 33%, from $1,200 to $1,600 per year. The increase was a surprise because neither Alexander nor her husband, Larry Jackson, had been in an accident or placed a claim at any time during their six years with Pemco. Outraged, the Kirkland (Wash.) couple called around to a few other insurance companies to try to get a better rate. But the competition's rates were even higher.

The reason? Jackson's credit status. Last year, he had a dispute with his bank over a student loan, which led to a black mark on his record -- and the subsequent rate hike on the couple's auto insurance. Such decisions are anything but unusual. According to Conning & Co., a Hartford (Conn.) research firm, 92% of insurers use credit scores as a factor to grant policies and set rates.

"I've been driving since I was 17. Now I'm 42, and I've never had a claim against me," says Alexander, a program manager at Microsoft. "Not-so-perfect credit doesn't mean I'm a bad driver. In fact, all the evidence shows that I'm a good driver."

LEGAL RESPONSE.  Alexander isn't alone. Since January, 2001, hundreds of Washington State residents have complained to the state insurance commissioner that their rates were being unjustly hiked. In response, the state House and Senate overwhelmingly passed bills to prevent insurers from using a consumer's credit score to cancel or not renew personal-insurance policies. The bills also outlaw the use of six factors, including the number of credit inquires and the consumer's available line of credit, in assessing policies and rates. Washington Governor Gary Locke signed the bill into law on Apr. 4.

The issue is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in state legislatures across the country. Hawaii and Connecticut have also passed legislation aimed at curbing the use of credit scores in insurance underwriting, and 21 more states have bills pending.

At the center of the storm is little-known California company Fair Isaac , number 50 on the S&P SmallCap 600. Fair Isaac creates the credit scores, known as FICO scores, that tell lenders whether a consumer is a good credit risk. Scores range anywhere from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the better the credit risk. A consumer with a FICO score of 700 will pay approximately $382 per month for a $20,000 auto loan over 60 months, according to E-LOAN, a California-based Internet lending institution. The same loan for someone with a score of 680 costs $393, while a borrower with a FICO of 580 will pony up $495.

"SUBJECTIVE GUESSWORK."  Just what goes into a consumer's score is anyone's guess -- because Fair Isaac isn't telling. The company maintains that its formula, which is used by the vast majority of lenders and 380 insurance companies, is proprietary. According to Fair Isaac spokesman Craig Watts, the algorithm must be protected so that consumers do not artificially inflate scores in the short term to, say, get a cheap loan and then return to their former profligate ways.

And therein lies the problem. "The word 'score' implies that something empirical is being measured, like body-fat percentage or cholesterol," says privacy-rights consultant David Holtzman. "In fact, FICO-like scores are based on highly subjective guesswork that might be offensive and possibly legally actionable if they came from a human being instead of a computer." As data profiling becomes more common, expect Fair Isaac's power -- and the consumer outcry about its secrecy -- to grow.

The insurance hubbub isn't Fair Isaac's first run-in with privacy advocates. In September, 2000, it was hauled in before a congressional subcommittee to explain why consumers don't have access to their FICO scores. This came after Fair Isaac pressured E-LOAN to stop making client FICO scores available free of charge.

PARTIAL PEEKS.  Fair Isaac claimed the service was misleading because it presented the scores out of context. But E-LOAN CEO Christopher Larsen says that's absurd: "Our model is to help consumers manage their debt just as they manage their stock portfolio. That makes understanding and managing FICO scores the cornerstone of our business."

As a result of the hearings, Fair Isaac is becoming more consumer-friendly. Last year, it launched a Web site called that allows consumers access to their credit report and FICO score for a fee of $12.95. Next month, Fair Isaac will launch a simulator to help consumers figure out how to improve their scores -- something the company had previously claimed was impossible to do. For instance, the site will tell consumers how opening a new credit-card account or paying down some debt will affect their FICO score.

Fair Isaac's move toward what it calls consumer-empowerment services aren't motivated solely by good will. Company CEO Thomas Grudnowski estimates that industrywide revenues from the consumer business will one day total $500 million to $1 billion a year, vs. very little now. "A year ago, no one at Fair Isaac would say that consumer business would be a big part of the business. Now, the answer is maybe," says spokesman Watts.

TEMPLE EDICTS.  Consumer advocates say these efforts don't go far enough. Larsen and others argue that a federal law is needed that gives consumers the right to a free copy of their credit score -- as well as a detailed explanation of how the score is computed. "Fair Isaac wants to be the high priest in the temple and issue edicts without anyone understanding what's going on," says Edmund Mierswinski, a consumer-credit expert with the Ralph Nader-affiliated U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "We need to know how the scores work. We need to know if they're accurate. We need to know if they're discriminatory."

That's even more important when the score is used to make decisions about issues like insurance, which are less closely tied to credit history -- if at all. "They need to make it transparent -- to remove the secrecy so that the public has an idea how [the information is] being used," says Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who led the charge to pass the state's new law. "That would ease the problems of outright unfairness we found, as well as the perception of unfairness." A simple solution to a growing problem.

Article source: BusinessWeek




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