Have you ever applied for a credit card, car loan or mortgage? If so, then one of the first things the lender looked at was your FICO score. It has a major impact not only on getting approved in the first place, but also on the interest rate you will receive after approval.
On August 7, FICO announced some pretty major changes in how they will be calculating that ever-important number. Before you can understand how the changes will or won't impact you, you need to have a firm grasp of the basics.
What is my FICO score?
Your FICO score, or credit score, is a number ranging from 300-850 that shows lenders how reliable you will be in repaying your debts. A bad score is anything below 560, not very good is 560-659, good is 660-724, very good is 725-759, and anything above 760 is classified as great. While it is best to be in the great range, you can sometimes qualify for the best available interest rates with 720 or above.
In order to calculate your credit score, FICO pulls information from your credit reports from the three major reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. When banks and other lending institutions consider your application, they look at several factors. The first is usually your FICO score, which will either get you in the door or get it slammed in your face, but after that they consider other aspects of your finances, such as income and the detailed history on the credit report itself.
What are the changes, and how will they affect me?
There will be four notable changes to how FICO evaluates your credit score once the announced new model is released. Some of them will be very good for some people, some of them will be bad for others, and some of them may prove to show negligible changes.
The first, and biggest, is that medical debts will no longer be considered when calculating your score. This is a huge relief. Many otherwise fiscally responsible people go into massive debt when a medical emergency happens. Others don't even know they owe money on medical bills in the first place, as they thought their insurance was going to cover their costs. When they realize they owe money, the responsible consumers pay it back, but it still leaves a scar on their credit report and, therefore, their FICO score.
With this new change, your FICO score will not be impacted. In fact, if you have no other negatives on your credit report (which would mean you most likely have a halfway decent score), you can expect to see your FICO score increase by up to 25 points.
Changes will also be made in considering debts that you have paid off. Currently, after you've paid off a debt, it stays on your credit report for seven years. That will continue to be the case after FICO's updates go into effect, but FICO will no longer look at those debts, even though they show up on your credit report. If you have consumer debts that you have paid off, and they're the only thing holding you back, you may see your score improve, as well.
There will also be an update to consider the creditworthiness of people who do not have an extensive report, taking into consideration things beyond just paying your month-to-month bills on time. (A lot of times, the people you are paying those bills to don't even report that anyways.) Depending on how this is done, it could be a boon for those who are unable to get credit not because they are irresponsible, but simply because they have never chosen to borrow money before.
The final update is not good news for those who hold consumer debt. If you owe money and it isn't paid in full, you can expect to see your credit score take a hit.
Hold your horses - and your enthusiasm.
While FICO has announced that it will make these changes, the new model has not gone into effect. It will not be ready to release to lenders until late 2014 or early 2015. Even then, banks have to choose to adopt it. Thismodel will be FICO 9. FICO 8 was introduced in 2009, and some lending institutions still have not updated since FICO 7. Just because they are releasing a new model doesn't mean that your lending institution will apply it to their evaluation process.
Another thing to remember is that while your FICO score gets you in the door, banks will look at your credit report. All of those things FICO ignores will still show up. If your medical debts are deemed too oppressive for you to possibly be able to pay for a mortgage on top of them, you may still be denied. And while FICO will ignore debt that has been paid off and closed, it will still stay on that pesky credit report for seven years for all of your potential lenders to see.
While these changes could be a great way to get your foot in the door with lenders, they're not a holy grail to your credit problems. The same tried and true wisdom will still apply: Spend responsibly, make sure the information on your credit report is accurate and pay off any debts as quickly as possible.
Femme Frugality is a personal finance blogger and freelance writer. You can find more of her writing on her blog, where she shares both factual articles and esoteric ruminations on money.