FICO Credit Scores: What Do They Mean?

Since we live in an computer-driven world, it's not surprising that your ability to repay your mortgage boils down to just one number. The FICO score is compiled by credit agencies. These agencies use the payment history from your various loans: mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etcetera.

Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, the three major credit reporting agencies, each have a proprietary formula for building your credit score. Fair Isaac and Cooriginally developed this score. . Experian uses this model and calls its score FICO. Equifax's model, based on FICO, is called BEACON, while TransUnion, which also uses a slightly modified FICO, calls its score EMPIRICA. While the formulas vary from one agency to another, each agency uses the following to determine your credit score:

  • Your Credit History - Have you had credit for many years, or for a short time?
  • Late Payments - Do you have a history of late payments?
  • Balances on your Credit Cards - How many credit card accounts do you hold, and how much do you owe?
  • Inquiries on Your Credit - How many times have lenders pulled your credit report for the purpose of lending you money?

Each of these is assigned a value and a weight. The results are added up and distilled into a single number. Credit scores range from 300 to 800. Higher scores are better. Most borrowers who want to get a mortgage score 620 or above.

Your credit score greatly affects your interest rate

FICO scores are used for more than just determining whether or not you qualify for a mortgage. Higher scores indicate you are a better credit risk, and thus may qualify for a better mortgage rate.

Improving your 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 score is formulated from your lifetime credit history, so it's not possible to raise it significantly in the short term. (Of course you can and should have incorrect items removed from your credit report.)

Getting your FICO score

To improve your score, you must obtain the credit reports that are used to build it, and of course, you need the score itself. Fair Isaac, the company that invented the first FICO score, sells FICO scores on its website: myFICO.com. It's inexpensive, fast, and easy to get your credit score along with credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies. Also available are helpful information and online tools that can help you improve your FICO score.

You can get a free credit report once per year from the three major agencies by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You won't get a free credit score from AnnualCreditReport.com, but getting it is fast and inexpensive.

Now that you have all the facts, you'll be a more informed consumer and you'll be better positioned to obtain the right mortgage for you.

Curious about credit scores? Give us a call at (650) 689-5684.

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