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Credit score forumla is changing
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In the old days, if you paid cash for everything and carried no debt, you were considered a great prospect for a mortgage or car loan. Fast forward a few decades and the rules have changed.
Today, your ability to borrow is largely determined by your credit score, a three-digit number lenders use to calculate how likely you are to repay debt.
A new version of FICO, the most widely used credit-scoring formula, has begun rolling out. FICO is named for Fair Isaac Corp., whose proprietary software is used by the three leading credit bureaus. Under the new version, FICO 08, weighting factors used to determine scores will change as lenders adopt it.
FICO public relations director Craig Watts explains, “As consumers’ credit habits change, we adjust our scoring formula to more accurately reflect information found credit bureau records.”
A few FICO 08 highlights:
• It continues to grade scores from a low of 300 up to 850 for stellar credit risks.
• Unpaid collections, judgments and liens where the original debt is under $100 (like small library fines, tickets or medical bills) are no longer factored in.
• One-time credit setbacks, like a charge-off or car repossession, won’t impact your credit as seriously, provided other accounts remain good. However, persistent late payments likely will be penalized more heavily.
• FICO 08 still factors in a certain amount of “authorized user” activity (adding a spouse or child to an account). However, you can no longer pay a credit repair agency to “piggyback” on a stranger’s strong credit record to improve your own score.
• FICO 08 is more sensitive to how much of your available credit you use; so if your lender lowers your credit limit, you might suddenly be tapping a higher percentage of available credit and be penalized.
If you maintain credit cards you seldom use, lenders may adjust the limits or close them altogether, thereby lowering your overall credit — and possibly, your score. One strategy: Make occasional small charges on these cards so lenders won’t close the accounts. Just be sure to pay off balances each month.
Because not all credit bureaus are adopting FICO 08 at the same time, it may not always be apparent which factors are being used to assess your creditworthiness. However can help maintain a sound credit score:
• Stay well below your overall and individual credit card limits.
• Never exceed credit limits or make late payments — that could damage your credit score and result in increased interest rates.
• Carefully review your credit reports. You can order one free report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus at Look for errors and fraud that could lower your score.
• You can also estimate your score on a free FICO estimator at What’s My Score, a financial literacy program run by Visa (

Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at
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