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Lesson 2.3

How Credit Scores Are Determined

 
Tim Alvis | Credit Expert | NMLS #373984

Credit Score Factors

The FICO credit score condenses your entire history as a borrower into a tidy three-digit number. That number ranges from 300-850 and is tabulated separately by each of the three credit reporting agencies.

FICO doesn’t reveal exactly how it formulates a credit score. But the company does provide a more broad-based look at how it all comes together.

So, let’s take a look at the five big factors that make up your FICO score:

  • Payment history (35% of your score): Your payment history accounts for the single largest portion of your score. Your track record as a borrower tells a potential lender a lot about the way you handle credit. The payment history portion considers the number of timely payments, late payments and number of adverse credit items, including bankruptcy, judgments, liens, past due accounts and items in collection.
  • Amounts owed (30% of your score): Having some debt isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But having too much in relation to your available credit can drag down your score. There are different rules of thumb, but generally try to keep your amounts owed to about 30 percent or less of your total available credit. Think of it as a balance-to-limit ratio on your credit cards.
  • Length of credit history (15% of your score): The next largest slice of your score is devoted to the length of your credit history. In general, a longer credit track record will usually bump up your score. FICO scores consider the age of your oldest and new credit accounts, the average age of your accounts and how frequently some accounts are used.
  • Types of credit used (10% of your score): The FICO score looks at the different types of credit you use, from credit cards and retail accounts to installment loans and mortgages. Opening new credit accounts for the sake of diversity isn’t likely to help your score. FICO says your credit mix isn’t usually a key factor, but it can become important if you don’t have much in the way of a credit history.
  • New credit (10% of your score): The FICO score looks at your number of new accounts and the type, as well as the frequency with which they were opened. A flurry of new loans or credit inquiries could signal a desperate grab for credit, so be cautious when opening new accounts. Applying for new credit may not hurt your score, and if it does, it’s typically a small impact. FICO also allows for rate shopping within a 45-day window, meaning your credit score won’t plummet if you’re seeking loan preapproval from multiple mortgage lenders. The credit bureaus will treat all credit pulls within that time frame as just one big inquiry.

Mortgage Credit Scores

Remember: Not all creditors report data to the credit bureaus. Those who do may not report to all three agencies. That means you might have three different FICO scores, one from Equifax, one from Experian and one from TransUnion.

Mortgage lenders will request your credit score from each of them. If the scores are different, and they very often are, lenders will typically use the median, or middle, score as your official credit score.

For example, if Equifax shows a 640, Experian shows a 685 and TransUnion shows a 659, a lender will use 659 – which is the median of those three figures – as your credit score for qualifying purposes.

FICO slices its score range into eight categories.
Credit Score Percentage of Consumers
300-499 4.9 percent
500-549 7.6 percent
550-599 9.4 percent
600-649 10.3 percent
650-699 13 percent
700-749 16.6 percent
750-799 18.2 percent
800 and above 19.9 percent

Source: FICO Scores, April 2015 Distribution

Remember, too, that there isn’t just one type of FICO score. There are dozens and dozens of different scoring formulas depending on the type of financing you’re seeking. A mortgage lender, a car dealer and a credit card company could pull your credit and come up with three different versions of your credit score.

So, if you pay to see your credit scores, understand that you’re seeing a basic score, not an industry-specific one. The scores that mortgage lenders or auto dealers see are tailored for their financing niche.

That means what you see as your credit score and what lenders see can be two different things.

  • Wondering how your scores stack up?