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What to know about the new FICO credit scores

FICO estimates that about 80 million consumers will

FICO estimates that about 80 million consumers will see about a 20-point shift in their scores, with half of those consumers seeing their score rise and the other half seeing it drop. Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus

Summer will not only bring warmer temps and sunny days, but changes to FICO credit scores.

The scores created by FICO, originally Fair Isaac Corp., are an independent standard measure of consumer credit risk used by lenders in more than 90% of all consumer credit decisions in the United States. So yes, this likely affects you.

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s changing?

The new FICO scoring model will be able to analyze much more intricate information, such as your account balances for the past two years, to more effectively monitor trends over time. It will also look more closely at personal loans, which could have a negative effect on those who use them.

“FICO is implementing the new model in an attempt to have a credit score be an even more accurate representation of how consumers manage their credit, so that lenders have a clearer picture of who they’re lending to,” explains Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney with the Tayne Law Group in Melville.

The new version is called FICO Score 10; a variant called FICO Score 10 T includes the data that looks back at up to 24 months of credit history. 

Who will be most impacted?

FICO estimates that about 80 million consumers will see about a 20-point shift in their scores, with half of those consumers seeing their score rise and the other half seeing it drop. Those who have been making on-time payments and keeping their credit card balances low or paying them off completely every month could see an increase in their score.

“But those who are already carrying debt or consistently have a balance could see their scores dip. Those who have shown consistent good habits of on-time payments and paid-off balances will be less negatively affected by one-time big purchases,” Tayne says.

Sara Rathner, a credit cards expert with NerdWallet.com, shares her perspective: “I know this all sounds scary, but keep in mind that most consumers won’t be negatively affected. Many lenders still use older FICO scoring models, so any changes won’t be too drastic.”

A loan applicant won’t know what scoring model the lender uses unless they ask, but even if they do, Rathner says,  they can't request that a different scoring model be used. The lender is required, however, to send the applicant a copy of the credit score if they reject the application or grant the borrower less favorable terms. If you’re applying for a mortgage, the lender will also send you the credit score they’re using to determine your loan terms.

Keep in mind the credit score a lender uses may be different from the one you see if you track your score through financial apps. The latter is what‘s considered an “educational score“ that gives you a sense of where you are, but may not match what the lender‘s scoring model ends up with.

If you're looking to become a first-time homeowner, the new scoring model is not likely to have any impact on your ability to secure mortgage financing. “Most mortgage lenders are still utilizing FICO credit scoring models that are several years old,” says Charlie Scanlon, president of Phoenix Credit Consultants in St. Louis.

“The new model will, however, impact auto loans, credit card availability and private student loan interest rates long before it impacts your ability to successfully obtain a mortgage loan,” he predicts.  Generally, it is up to the lender to choose the scoring model they use, Scanlon says.

Remember the basics

Instead of panicking about the changes, control what you can. Even with the new model, the fundamentals still apply. “Paying on time and using as little credit as possible are still the most important ways to keep your credit score high. If you’ve been carrying a balance, work to pay it off before the new model goes into effect, because it could cause a drop in your score,” Tayne says.

Once you pay it off, consider adjusting your budget and your spending habits to avoid consistently carrying a balance in the future. “The new model will favor consumers that are clearly making an effort to improve their habits,” Tayne says.

Request a free credit report from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian to identify any problems. “Incorrect information lowers your credit score. Also, make sure to verify that the accounts listed on your reports are correct. If you see any errors, dispute the information and get it corrected immediately,” says Peter Greco, founder and chief tax strategist at CSI Group in Manhattan.

Think carefully before closing an old credit card, because that can lower your average age of credit and your total credit limit. A long credit history can improve your credit score.

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