FICO Credit Scores: What Do They Mean?
Since we live in an computer-driven society, it should come as no surprise that your ability to repay your mortgage loan comes down to just one number. All the years you've been paying your various bills: your mortgage, car payments, and credit card bills can be analyzed, diced, spindled and mutilated into a single indicator of whether you're likely to meet your future obligations.
TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, the three major credit agencies, each have a proprietary formula for building a credit score. The original FICO was developed by Fair Isaac and Company. While Experian still calls its score "FICO", TransUnion calls its score "Beacon" and Equifax uses "Empirica." While these methods vary, all of the agencies use the following to build a score:
- Your Credit History - How many years have you had credit?
- Payment History - Do you have any payments later than 30 days?
- Balances on your Credit Cards - How many accounts? How much do you owe?
- Requests for Credit - How many times have lenders pulled your credit for the purpose of lending you money?
Each of these factors is assigned a value and a weight. The results are added up and distilled into a single number. FICO scores can be as low as 300 and as high as 800. Higher scores are better. Most people getting a mortgage these days have a score above 620.
Not just for qualifying
Did you know? FICO scores affect more than your ability to get a loan. They also affect your interest rate. Higher scores indicate you are probably a better credit risk, and thus may qualify for a better mortgage rate.
Can I raise my credit score?
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot you can do to immediately improve your credit score. Despite what you hear from "credit repair" companies, the FICO score is built on your lifetime credit history, so it's not possible to raise it significantly in the short term. (Of course you can and should appeal incorrect items on your credit report.)
Know your FICO score
Before you can improve your score, you must get your score and be sure that the credit reports from each agency are correct. Fair Isaac has created a web site (www.myFICO.com) that lets you do just that. It's inexpensive to get your FICO from all three agencies, along with your credit report. They also provide helpful information and tools that help you understand how to improve your FICO score.
You can get a federally-mandated free credit report once a year from all three credit reporting agencies when you visit AnnualCreditReport.com. While this report does not include a free credit score, the cost to "upgrade" your report to include a credit score is very reasonable.
Now that you have all the facts, you will be a more informed consumer and you'll be better positioned to obtain the most favorable mortgage.