The FICO credit score is used by all three major credit bureaus – Experian, Trans Union and Equifax. They are the companies that keep track of the credit and lending transactions of millions of Americans. The score is used to provide, in a nutshell, a figure that represents the credit-worthiness of a consumer. That score, which ranges from a low of 300 to a high of 850, is used in many ways by businesses and employers. The score is used by insurance companies to set rates, landlords to establish security deposits, and even prospective employers to determine whether hiring someone is a good risk. Despite the importance of credit scores in their lives, few Americans understand how it works.
The score is determined by a variety of factors, each of which makes up a portion of the score:
- Approximately one third of the score represents the individual’s payment history. Previous loans, and the ability to pay them are shown in this portion of the score. Both late payments and failure to pay at all affect this portion of the score. Those who have paid all of his or her loans on time will obtain the highest scores.
- Another third of the score is determined by current debts, and the ratio of debt to the amount of available credit. Keeping all of your credit cards at or near their limits will hurt this portion of the score. This seems obvious; those who are already near their credit limits may have trouble paying back any future loans.
- The remaining third of the credit score is determined by three factors – length of credit history, recent credit applications, and the types of overall credit in the individual’s credit history. The length of the credit history is the most significant item, as lenders are more suspicious of borrowers who have not established a pattern of borrowing and repaying loans. A history of repaid loans goes a long way towards fortifying this portion of the score. Recent credit applications, particularly a lot of them, may suggest that the individual is desperate to borrow more money and may have a financial problem. Similarly, the types of credit demonstrate spending patterns and reliability. A credit report containing all credit cards may be seen as more risky than one with a few credit cards, a repaid auto loan and an ongoing mortgage.
By seeing how a credit score is compiled, consumers can take action to keep their scores healthy. A good score helps borrower obtain loans at better interest rates, and that is something that everyone can appreciate.