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What Is a FICO Score and Why Does it Matter?
| StreetShares Blog

What Is a FICO Score and Why Does it Matter?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinions, policies, or positions of StreetShares or any of its affiliates.

If you’ve ever needed to make a financial decision and thought to yourself, “how will this affect my credit score?”, we salute you. For the majority of Americans, the world of credit seems to be shrouded in secrecy and myth. Terms like credit score, credit report, and FICO score are thrown around without consumers knowing their true meaning. Understanding your FICO Credit Score and why it matters is important, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.

Let’s find out exactly what a credit score is, and more specifically how your FICO score is calculated. Lastly, we'll explore why should your FICO score should matter to you.

Credit Reports vs. Credit Scores

If you’re trying to figure out what your credit score is and what it means to you, let’s first confirm that a credit score and your credit report are not the same thing.

In the United States, there are three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Each one of these credit bureaus monitors consumer credit and creates an individualized credit report for you. Credit reports show the different types of credit you use, length of account history, outstanding balances, and late or on-time payments among many other elements. By law, you are entitled to a free credit report from each one of the three major credit bureaus each year. The Federal Trade Commission urges consumers to use annualcreditreport.com as a safe source to pull their credit report annually.

In contrast, a credit score is a number that is calculated based off many of the elements from your credit report. A credit score is supposed to act as a predictive tool for credit lenders to make lending decisions. Lenders will look at your score to help them decide how likely you are to pay back your debts, if you will pay them on-time, and how much credit you can responsibly handle. Lenders will also use your credit score to determine what interest rate they will charge.

The FICO Score

Although there are a small handful of companies that calculate credit scores, the most commonly used credit score is the FICO Credit Score, specifically the FICO 8 score. The Fair Isaac Company or “FICO” owns the formula that calculates your FICO Credit Scores from your credit report. Although there are other companies that also calculate credit scores, 90% of lenders use a variety of different FICO scores to make their credit lending decisions.

Even within FICO, there are different type of FICO credit scores. The most commonly used score is the FICO 8. The calculation of the FICO Score is always being updated to reflect changes in how consumers are using credit. Although the FICO 8 is the most commonly used score, the previously calculated scores, the FICO 2,4, and 5 are still used in mortgage lending.

 The FICO 9 is the newest version of the FICO score. Although it is not as widely used yet, its calculation is said to be more predictive of a borrower’s credit use. The FICO 9 considers rental history (only when reported by a landlord), does not negatively impact paid-off third-party collections, and unpaid medical collections have less of a negative impact than compared with the FICO 8 Score.

Read next: How to Improve Your Personal Credit Score

How is my FICO 8 Score Calculated?

Your FICO scores only look at the information that is in your personal credit report.  It doesn’t look at information such as age, race, gender, marital status, driving records, where you live, how much money you make, or employment history. Although FICO does not publish the exact formula that calculates their FICO scores, the FICO 8 score has been studied so closely that we understand the five elements and their weights that make up a FICO 8 credit score.

Payment History (35%)

Do you pay your bills on time? Lenders want to know. Not all bills are created equal either. A missed credit card payment might drop your score, but missing a mortgage payment can cause a potential drop of more than 100 points!

Credit Utilization Ratio (30%)

It’s good to pay your credit card statement on-time and in full every month to avoid being charged interest. That helps contribute to a healthy payment history. However, it doesn’t look good for your credit score if you max your cards out every month, even if you pay them in full.

Length of Credit History (15%)

An older credit history can help to increase your score. However, just because you are new to credit, doesn’t mean you can’t have a high score, since credit history only makes up 15% of your score. This element looks not only at how long your oldest accounts have been open, but also how long it’s been since you’ve used those accounts.

New Credit (10%)

The average age of your credit accounts helps to determine this portion of your credit score. Opening several new credit accounts in a short period of time won’t look great for your FICO score.

Credit Mix (10%)

FICO scores evaluate all the different types of credit you might have.  Do you just have credit cards? Or, have you had several different types of credit such as credit cards, mortgages, student loans, installment loans (like a car payment), retail accounts, or bank accounts? 

Why Does My FICO Score Matter?

Americans are using more credit than ever before. For good or bad, in the last 30 years, the demand for credit has been on a steady rise. As stated earlier, lenders use your credit score to not only decide whether or not they will extend credit to you, but also to determine the interest rate, and the term of the loan. The most commonly used score, the FICO 8 Score, ranges from 300-850. You should strive for a score of 670 or above to receive favorable loan terms.

There five generally accepted brackets of the FICO 8 score.

  • Exceptional (800-885)
  • Very Good (740-799)
  • Good (670-739)
  • Fair (580-669)
  • Very Poor (300-579)

Applicants in the lower brackets often pay higher interest rates or have less favorable terms as compared to credit applicants with a higher score. If a FICO 8 score is extremely low, a borrower might not qualify for credit at all.

We know that traditionally different types of FICO score are used when applying for a new mortgage or financing a car. However, credit scores are used by a wide variety of entities in an effort to understand a consumer’s risk profile. Below is a sampling of ways credit scores are used:

  • Banks: determine personal, student, and business loan eligibility and terms
  • Credit card companies: credit card eligibility and terms
  • Mortgage companies: home refinancing options
  • Landlords: assist in developing a potential renter’s risk profile
  • Cell phone companies: determine payment plans or security deposits
  • Utility/Cable/Internet Companies: determine security deposits
  • Insurance companies: may use your score as part of a credit-based rate

 See also: 3 Ways Bad Credit Can Affect Your Business Loan

Where Can I Find My FICO 8 Score?

You can purchase your FICO 8 score directly from MyFICO.com. Additionally, many credit card companies offer their customers free credit score reporting- it’s a great idea to get in the habit of checking your score monthly if that's available to you.

Keeping close tabs on your FICO 8 Score is not only a good practice for those who are looking to take out new credit. Knowing your FICO 8 Score also helps you to monitor your credit against fraud, better understand your credit usage, and possibly kick some bad credit habits too.

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This communication is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be an advertisement, a solicitation, or constitute professional advice, including legal, financial,  or tax advice, nor is StreetShares providing advice on any particular situation.

Topics: Growing Your Savings, Veteran Small Business, Funding Your Business

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