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10 Most Confusing Things About Credit Scores

In a recent joint “TweetChat” with Bankrate.com, we fielded hundreds of questions from participants on the specifics of a FICO® Score. Their questions ranged from basic to complex, reminding us that as consumers become more credit savvy, the complexities of the FICO Score can still be confusing even to a student of credit.

Here are some of the most popular questions from the Bankrate.com session. Our answers may prove useful as your bank or credit union responds to similar questions from your customers about credit scores.

  1. What’s the difference between a credit report and a credit score? Does a credit report include my FICO® Score?
    Your credit report doesn’t contain any scores. Credit reports and scores are very different kinds of information. Your credit report contains information about your credit history gathered by the credit bureau from your lenders, state and county courthouses, collection agencies, and similar sources. This information shows your pursuit, use and repayment of credit. A credit score helps lenders interpret the data on your credit report. FICO® Scores are credit scores between 300 and 850 that are calculated only from your credit history information found on the credit report. Each FICO Score predicts how likely you are, compared to other consumers, to become seriously late repaying creditors in the future. The higher your score, the more likely you are to repay your creditors as agreed. Lenders may use both your credit report and your credit score to make some credit decisions.
  2. When I apply for a line of credit or an extended line of credit, will it hurt my FICO® Score?
    Not necessarily. When you apply for credit, the lender often will check your FICO® Score or credit report before making a decision. When you later check your credit report yourself, you may see that credit inquiry listed. Whether an inquiry affects your FICO Score depends on several factors, such as the type of credit you applied for and the number of inquiries you already initiated within the past year. For example, your score will ignore mortgage, auto, and student loan inquiries made within the 30 days prior to scoring. So if you shop around for a loan and apply for one within 30 days, those lender inquiries won't affect your score during that time. Mortgage, auto or student loan inquires that have been on your credit report longer than 30 days are treated by the FICO scoring formula as a single inquiry if they occurred within a focused period of time, such as 45 days.
  3. Are all credit scores FICO® Scores?
    No. “FICO” refers to a particular brand of credit score developed by the FICO company which pioneered credit scoring. Ninety of the top 100 U.S. lenders use FICO® Scores. Most consumer websites sell other brands of credit scores to consumers, but such scores are used by few lenders and in many cases aren’t sold to lenders at all. These scores can mislead consumers and may come with poor advice about their credit picture. Consumers can get the same FICO Scores that lenders use at www.myFICO.com.
  4. Does my credit score determine whether I get credit?
    Your score will likely play a big part in that decision, but lenders won’t all view your score the same way. That’s because lenders have different tolerances for risk. Some lenders will require a higher score than others do for the same basic credit product. Also, lenders often will consider other information in addition to your score as they make their decision. This can include information from your credit application (such as income, length of time on your job, own vs. rent), any prior credit experience you have had with that lender, and the value of the property (auto or real estate) you want to buy.
  5. Will seeing a credit counselor hurt my FICO® Score?
    No. The FICO® Score ignores any mention of credit counseling or debt management plans on your credit report. It also won’t hurt your FICO Score if your credit report includes one or more accounts described as being paid through a credit counseling agency or a debt counseling agency. However, if such an agency does not pay on time, your score will be affected. It’s always a good idea to send your payments to the agency a little early so the agency can get your payment to your creditors on time each month.
  6. What can I do to significantly improve my credit score in the next couple of days?
    There are no quick fixes when it comes to improving your credit standing. Getting a good FICO® Score is the result of maintaining responsible credit habits over time. The most important of these habits are:
    • Pay your bills on time
    • Keep any credit card balances low
    • Apply for new credit only when necessary
    You also should check your credit reports for accuracy. You can get your reports for free once each year from www.annualcreditreport.com.
  7. Does checking my own credit report or credit score hurt my FICO® Score?
    No. When you check your own FICO® Score or credit report, the resulting inquiry on your credit report is ignored by the FICO scoring formula and will never hurt your FICO Score.
  8. Has everyone’s credit score dropped because of the recession?
    Not at all. While it’s true that recent financial problems have resulted in lower FICO® Scores for many people, millions of others have managed their credit in ways that have increased their scores. They have paid their bills on time, lowered their credit card balances, and postponed their pursuit of new credit.
  9. Do FICO® Scores consider race, gender or income in their formula?
    FICO® Scores don’t consider any personal information from credit reports including your race, gender, nationality, address, income and marital status. As a result, lenders who use FICO Scores are better able to comply with the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act by making lending decisions in a non-discriminatory and fair manner.
  10. Are the FICO® Scores sold to consumers by myFICO.com an approximation of the score lenders see?
    FICO® Scores sold by myFICO.com are precisely the same scores used in credit decisions by thousands of U.S. lenders and other businesses, large and small. Other websites may sell scores that imitate the FICO Score in look and feel, but they use different formulas, have different score ranges, and may mislead people into taking inappropriate actions with their credit. Genuine FICO Scores are always clearly labeled as such.

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