Each time you apply for credit, chances are the lender will pull your FICO Score as a part of the review process. Why so? It all boils down to creditworthiness; the higher your credit score, the less likely you are to default on the debt obligation, which is music to the potential creditor’s ears. But if your score is in the trenches, you pose more of a risk and if approved, will more than likely be subject to less competitive financing terms. 

But how is your FICO Score calculated? Do all lenders use the same number? And where can you go to find yours? Read on to discover the answer to these questions, along with ways to boost your three-digit number. 

What Is a FICO Score? 

It’s easy to assume that all credit scores are created equal but this isn’t the case. There are two types of credit scores: FICO and FAKO scores. The FICO Score, which will be the focus of this guide, is used by 90 percent of the top lenders to make a credit decision, notes myFICO.com

By contrast, the FAKO score accounts for the other 10 percent of credit scores you’ll see and it is based on simulated credit models. These include the National Equivalency Score (from Experian), TransRisk score, and VantageScores. 

Credit Score Ranges

FICO Scores range from 300 to 850 and as mentioned earlier, gauge the likelihood of the borrower repaying a loan on time. Wondering what constitutes a good credit score? According to myFICO.gov, the credit score ranges are as follows: 

  • Exceptional: 800 or higher  
  • Very Good: 740 to 799
  • Good: 670 to 739
  • Fair: 580 to 669
  • Poor: up to 580

Keep in mind that what one lender constitutes as a good or bad score may not be the same for another as each lender has their criteria. For example, if you’re applying for an auto loan and your score is relatively low due to unpaid medical bills, the lender may still approve your application if you have a track record of managing auto loans responsibly. 

How Your FICO Score Is Calculated 

Ever wondered what was in your FICO Score? There are five components which will be discussed in greater detail below, but keep in mind that some factors will hold more weight than others, depending on how long you’ve been managing credit. 

Payment History 

When lenders and creditors extend credit to you, they’re doing it with the anticipation of being paid back on time with interest. This is why payment history accounts for a whopping 35 percent of your credit score. 

If you have a track record of paying back other lenders and creditors on-time, chances are you’ll do the same going forward, and the FICO scoring model will reward you by boosting your score. Furthermore, lenders will offer you competitive financing terms. But if you’ve constantly mismanaged credit in and chronically paid late in the past, your score will be lower. And in turn, you may be forced to pay significantly higher interest rates or be denied altogether. 

An important note: Lenders and creditors won’t report delinquent accounts until they’ve reached 30 days past due. But if the account is not resolved before then and the late payment appears, your score could drop by up to 100 points, and the impact could linger for two years (although it’ll lessen as time progresses). 

Amounts Owed 

Ever heard of your credit utilization ratio? It’s the percentage of credit you’re currently using on your revolving accounts compared to the total credit limit and accounts for 30 percent of your FICO Score. 

What about installment loans? They aren’t factored into your credit utilization ratio. However, your FICO Score could see improvements as you work to minimize balances over time. 

Length of Credit History (15%)

Approximately 15 percent of your FICO score is determined by how long you’ve been managing credit. Shorter credit history doesn’t necessarily mean your FICO Score will be in the trenches, but a more established credit history could be could news for your score. 

Credit Mix (10%)

Depending on which type of credit you’re applying for, the lender may want you to have experience managing revolving credit (i.e. credit cards) and installment debt. For this reason, credit mix accounts for 10 percent of your FICO Score. 

New Accounts (10%)

This component of your FICO Score includes voluntary (or hard) credit inquiries which stem from credit applications you authorize. Your score could drop by two to five points each time a hard inquiry appears, and it’ll continue to impact your FICO Score for up to 12 months. 

A hard inquiry here or there isn’t the end of the world. But if you apply for a plethora of credit products at once, your score could decrease by several points. The exception to the rule is when you’re shopping around for a loan, which is also known as rate shopping. 

The FICO Scoring model will recognize what you’re doing and won’t penalize you for doing your homework as long as you decide on a loan product within a set period. This ranges between 14 and 45 days, depending on FICO scoring formula, notes myFICO

Keep in mind that involuntary (or soft) credit inquiries, like those resulting from pre-screened credit offers, along with requests you make for your credit do not impact your FICO score. 

What’s Excluded From Your FICO Score 

Now that you know what’s in your credit score, it’s equally important to be mindful of what information is excluded. Items excluded from your FICO Score  calculation include:

  • Your age, sex, race, ethnicity, and marital status
  • Your employment status or any other information related to your employment history 
  • Child and family support obligations 
  • Interest rates on loans and credit card products 
  • Credit inquiries you initiate to check your credit 

Variations of Your FICO Score 

Although the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, all use the same formula to calculate your FICO Score, the actual figure may differ across the board. Why so? For starters, not all creditors report information to the three bureaus, so it’s possible that positive payment history that’s boosting your credit score on one report can be omitted from the others. You must also consider errors that may appear on some reports and not on others. 

Industry-specific FICO Scores

These are scores that cater to auto lenders, mortgage lenders, and credit card issuers. While they may still opt to go with your base FICO Score, some will use industry-specific scores to get a better idea of how much risk you pose to them with regards to the particular type of credit you’re applying for.

  • Most Prevalent Model: FICO Score 8 is used by lenders across the board to determine the likelihood of default on credit or debt products
  • Auto Lending: includes FICO Auto Scores 2, 4, 5, and 8, and is used by auto lenders to determine the likelihood of default on auto loans
  • Mortgage Lending: includes FICO Scores 2, 4, and 5, and is used by mortgage lenders to determine the likelihood of default on mortgage loans for both new purchases and refinancing 
  • Credit Card Decisioning: includes FICO Score 3 and FICO Bankcard Scores 2, 4, 5, and 8, and is used by credit card issuers to determine the likelihood of delinquency on credit card accounts 

While the three-digit figure will vary by FICO Score version, the key to success when attempting to reach the optimal score lies in making timely payments, maintaining low credit card balances, and only applying for new credit accounts when the need arises, notes myFICO.com

FICO Score 9

There’s been a lot of chatter in personal finance circles about the latest version of your credit score, FICO Score 9, and how it’s good news for consumers. Why so? A few key benefits: 

  • Unpaid medical debt won’t hit your credit score as hard 
  • Paid collections no longer impact your credit score 
  • Unconventional factors, including rental and utility payment history, may help those with little to no credit history 
  • Small collection accounts that are under $100 won’t have an impact (which is the same under FICO Score 8) 

While a bulk of lenders and creditors are still using FICO Score 8 or industry-specific scores, it’s starting to be rolled out slowly but surely. 

How to Retrieve Your FICO Score

Free Options

Discover Credit Scorecard

Even if you don’t have a Discover credit card in your arsenal, you can still get free FICO Score updates Discover Credit Scorecard. When you sign up, you’ll also receive instant notifications each time new accounts or credit inquiries appear on your Experian credit report. And if your Social Security Number surfaces on any sites related to the Dark Web. 

Experian

You can retrieve your FICO Score 8 from Experian.com for free by signing up here. Your account also includes free credit monitoring, Experian Boost (which can increase your FICO Score), and an updated score every 30 days. 

myFICO

Choose from a one-time report from each bureau for $19.95 or a subscription plan. If you prefer the latter, they offer three plans: 

  • Basic- $19.95 per month for your FICO Score 8 from Experian 
  • Advanced- $29.95 per month for your FICO Score 8 from the three credit bureaus, quarterly credit report updates, and 28 variations of your FICO Score 
  • Premier- $39.95 per month and includes the same features of the Advanced subscription, but with monthly credit report updates

Equifax

Score Watch from Equifax includes credit monitoring and access to your FICO Score 5 and credit report twice annually for $14.95 per month. But if you’d prefer a more comprehensive solution, the Equifax Complete Premier plan costs $19.95 per month and includes updated scores and monitoring from the three bureaus. 

TransUnion

You can retrieve your FICO Score from TransUnion by enrolling in monthly credit monitoring for $24.95 per month. As a subscriber, you’ll also be granted access to the CreditCompass tool that provides tips to help you reach your credit goals and a host of other perks. 

Select Credit Card Providers

You may be able to access your FICO Score for free through your credit card provider’s online portal. Credit card issuers that extend this perk to cardholders include American Express, Bank of America, and Citibank, just to name a few. Chase Slate and Walmart Credit Card and MasterCard account holders can also view their FICO Score for free. 

Banks and Credit Unions

Whether you patronize a bank or credit union, it doesn’t hurt to inquire to determine if they offer free FICO Score s to their account holders. 

Do You Have a FICO Score? 

Perhaps you have little to no credit history and are wondering if you even have a FICO Score. According to myFICO.com, you’ll need the following for a FICO Score  to be generated on your behalf: 

  • A credit account that is active and has been open for at least six months
  • A credit account that the creditor or lender has reported to the credit bureaus in the past six months 

Quick note: if you’re a credit newbie and happen to share an account with an individual that has passed away, you may have a FICO Score until your information is updated. Also, keep in mind that the minimum requirements to generate a credit score is not the same across the board for all versions of the FICO Score. 

How to Improve Your FICO Score

Looking to improve your FICO Score? There are several actions you can take, but it all boils down to paying your debt obligations on time, keeping balances low, and only applying for credit as needed. 

Need more tips on boosting your credit score in a jiffy? Check out this comprehensive guide

Author

Allison Martin is a syndicated financial writer, author, and Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI). She has written about personal finance for almost ten years and holds a master's degree in Accounting from the University of South Florida. Allison's work has been featured on The Wall Street Journal, ABC, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, Fox Business, Credit.com, MoneyTalksNews, Investopedia, The Simple Dollar, and a host of other reputable publications. She also travels around the nation facilitating financial literacy and business workshops to individuals from all walks of life. In her spare time, Allison enjoys traveling, cuddling up with a good book, and spending time with family. She lives in Florida with her husband and two young sons.

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