When most people hear the word “FICO,” they think “credit report” or “credit score.” In fact, there’s a good chance you think all credit scores are simply FICO Scores—that’s how synonymous FICO’s name has become with the credit scoring model it pioneered.
What FICO actually does is develop analytics software that uses algorithms to predict consumer behavior. Its software assesses a prospective borrower’s ability to repay a loan.
Confused? Let’s break down what you need to know about a FICO credit report or FICO Score.
More About FICO, the Company?
FICO is provides analytic, software, and data management products and services. It specializes in the credit analysis market, and is a pioneer in the credit score and credit account management fields. Its primary focus is on providing credit scoring models and results to banks, credit reporting agencies (credit bureaus), credit card processing agencies, insurers, retailers, and healthcare organizations.
FICO focuses on three key areas:
FICO was founded in 1956 as Fair, Isaac, and Co. by engineer Bill Fair and mathematician Earl Isaac. FICO sold its first credit scoring system in 1958. In 1987, the company introduced the first general-purpose FICO Score. It also went public in 1987, and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol FICO. Here are some other quick FICO facts:
- Headquarters: San Jose, California
- CEO: William Lansing
- Size: More than 3,400 employees worldwide
- Website: fico.com
- Twitter: twitter.com/myfico
What Is a FICO Credit Report or Score?
Consumers are most familiar with FICO for its FICO Scores. And, yes there is more than one. And you have more than one FICO Score. There are at least seven versions of FICO Scores. Why so many?
FICO has one general credit score for the major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The most widely used version is FICO Score 8. It also has industry-specific scores for each bureau, meaning there’s a FICO credit card score, a FICO mortgage score, a FICO auto loan score, and so on for Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
FICO Scores have evolved over time too. The latest version, FICO 9, for instance, was announced in 2014. Unlike its predecessors, FICO 9 ignores paid collections accounts and puts less weight on unpaid medical debts, since they’re an unplanned expense over which the debtor has little control.
The History of the FICO Score
FICO introduced the original FICO Score with Equifax in 1989. By 1991, all three national consumer reporting agencies were selling the score to lenders. In the process, the score revolutionized the way lenders, and other businesses, assessed consumer credit risk. Because it considered only credit histories, the score offered a fair and objective risk assessment that ignored subjective factors.
By assessing a person’s general risk of repayment, the score proved useful to lenders throughout their relationships with consumers, ranging from new loan decisions to account management decisions.
The score quickly proved useful to creditors in other industries, such as retail goods and telecommunications services. By providing the first risk assessment consistently scaled across all three agencies, the FICO Score made it easier for lenders to tap more than one agency and accelerated the speed with which they could assess risk and make credit decisions.
As a result, more consumers gained faster and more convenient access to credit, including people who previously had been denied credit.
Since the initial score’s debut, more than 100 billion FICO credit scores have been sold. According to its website, the company currently services more than 90% of the leading lenders, more than half of the top 100 banks in the world, 95 of the 100 biggest financial institutions in the US, and all of the 100 largest US credit card issuers.
How Do I Understand My FICO Score?
Most FICO credit scores follow the same FICO Score range of 300 to 850. (The higher your number, the less risky lenders consider you.) Scores are all generally built on the same key factors:
- Payment history, which accounts for 35% of the score
- Credit utilization, or the amount of debt owed, which accounts for 30% of the score
- Credit age, or length of credit history, which accounts for 15% of the score
- Credit mix, which accounts for 10% of the score
- Credit inquiries, which makes up 10% of the score
These factors all affect non-FICO credit scoring models as well, the most notable being VantageScore, whose 3.0 model also follows a range of 300 to 850.
So, in short, it is possible to get an idea of whether you have a good FICO credit score or not, even if you’re not looking at the same credit score as your lender.
Find more detail about what goes into calculating a FICO credit score.
What Is a Good FICO Score?
There are a lot of different FICO credit scores as well as lots of credit scores in general, but when it comes to assessing your credit-worthiness, the following tiers typically apply:
- Excellent: A score of750+
- Good: A score of 700 to 749
- Fair: A score of 650 to 699
- Poor: A score of600 to 649
- Bad: A score below 600
Do I Have to Know My FICO Credit Score?
Given how many different credit scores there are, it’s impossible to know which one a lender is going to look at. When it comes to monitoring your credit score, a good strategy is to pick a single consumer-facing credit score and check it regularly to see your progress. That way, you can us the one score to see any reduction in your score and then investigate as to repair any issues.
It’s a good idea to focus less on the three-digit number and more on the information that’s getting flagged on your credit report. For instance, if you see high credit card balances, you can want to pay them down to improve your scores across all providers. Or, if your credit report is full of inquiries, you might want to hold off on applying for new loans to protect all your scores from further reductions.
You can view your free Experian credit score snapshot on credit.com. The snapshot shows you your score. Once you get your score, you can also find information on how to improve your score, if needed.
FICO Score Version 9 Changed How Medical Debt Is Assessed
In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that any medical debt an individual had incurred had a significant impact on that person’s credit history and credit scores. That same year, more than 43 million Americans found that they had medical debt on their credit history.
That medical debt, however, resulted from several different problems. It could have been that the debt wasn’t being paid as agreed, but it could have also meant there was some kind of issue between the medical provider and the insurance company, which led to the consumer not even realizing they had any medical debt, to begin with.
FICO Score 9 is a newer scoring model that gives medical debts less weight than nonmedical debt. The consumer is given a chance obtain or to raise FICO Score 9 scores even with the medical debt.
The FICO Score 9 model also looks at paid collections differently. Any of the consumer’s outstanding bills that have been sent to collections are not used to reduce FICO Score 9 credit scores as long as the debt is paid in full by the consumer.
The FICO Score 9 also looks at rental history differently than the previous score versions. A consumer’s rental history is factored into the FICO Score 9 model only when the landlord reports the payments directly to each of the three major credit bureaus. Landlords are not required to report rental payments and payment history. But, you can ask your landlord to do so as a means to improve your score. You can also consider asking for this action to be part of rental agreements.
With the changes made to the FICO 9 scoring system, consumers have more opportunity to repair credit and build a more positive credit score with each credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, which each use FICO Score 9.
This article was originally published January 4, 2017, and has been updated by another author.