Consumers need to know that as of February 14, 2009, Experian based FICO scores and reports, previously available at my fico site, are no longer available to consumers. As Barry writes at my fico site, “The change will be effective on February 14th, 2009. While Experian’s decision eliminates the consumers’ ability to see their own FICO scores, it will not impact your (lenders) ability to use FICO scores your lending decisions. “Experts agree that FICO scores are the most widely used measure of consumer creditworthiness used by lenders in the United States. FICO scores are credit scores computed by Fair Isaac Corporation using the company’s proprietary computational formulas.
Fair Isaac Corporation uses the credit information that Experian, Tran’s union, and Equifax compiles about each consumer and runs this information through their complex formulas to arrive at three FICO scores – one score per credit report. Why is Experian’s decision important to consumers? Those individuals interested in augmenting their credit scores, repairing their credit, or understanding how lenders are making credit decisions about them, now have one less reliable avenue through which to try to assess their credit position prior to borrowing. If knowledge is power, consumers now have even less power to understand their credit score and if need be, understand that they need to fix bad credit scores. Before any appreciation can be gained about what this change means in terms of consumer rights, it is important to understand the limitations that already exist on a consumer’s ability to accurately assess their credit score.
The three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and Tran’s union – each gather information about a consumer and compile that information into a credit report. A consumer recently gained the right to an annual, free copy of these 3 reports. However, each of these CRAs use their own credit scoring models, different from the model used by Fair Isaac Corporation. For this reason, consumers who wish to know what their FICO scores must request, and pay for, 3 FICO scores from my fico site. The reason for this is that each CRA compiles their own, and often different, credit information on a consumer. Each FICO score is based on one of the three CRA reports, and the three FICO scores can differ by very significant numbers. Many consumers incorrectly assume that the FICO scores they retrieve from my fico site are the same ones that lenders see prior to assessing their creditworthiness and therefore, the price they will pay for that credit.
As of February 14, this is not necessarily the case. Not only will consumers not know what score (if any) is being provided based on Experian credit data, they will not know if a lender is basing a decision on one, two or three scores. As Smart Money magazine reports, Experian spokeswoman Sue Henson describes Experian’s relationship with Fair Isaac Corp. as “not strategic” and refers to the scores consumers access at my fico site as “educational”. She further points out: “They are not necessarily by any means the scores lenders are using.
What scores are lenders using?
What scores and/or credit reports should consumers focus on if they want to heighten credit scores or repair credit? Good question. The reality is that although a consumer can access their credit reports from the CRAs once annually for free, the scores contained on every of those reports are not FICO scores. They are the scores computed using the 3 CRAs different scoring methods. Only the scores provided by Fair Isaac Corporation are real, genuine FICO scores. Consumers must pay Fair Isaac Corporation to access their 3 FICO scores- scores that are based on the information contained in the three reports, but that can differ significantly.
What is a consumer to do?
Many consumer advocates are now suggesting that consumers looking to access credit in any form ask the lenders to tell them what store and information they are basing their decisions on. If a lender finds this request to challenging, tell that lender that you will not do business with them for these very reasons and go elsewhere. Outside of that, the best a consumer can do is to request their free annual Experian credit report (along with the other two – Transunion and Equifax). Study the report to ensure that all information being reported is accurate and up to date. If it is not, begin the steps involved to see that it is corrected.
This is the best a consumer can do to attempt to ensure that their FICO scores accurately reflect their credit worthiness. There is still no guarantee, even if you pay for the2 FICO scores you can still access, that the scores you see are the same scores your lenders will see. Although every Credit Reporting Bureau compiles information about each consumer and provides a credit score based on their own scoring model, and Fair Isaac Corporation compiles FICO scores using this data and their own credit scoring system, learning as much as possible about how Fair Isaac Corporation weighs general categories of consumer behavior can provide a general guide to how consumers should approach building good credit scores.