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Understanding How a FICO Credit Score is Determined

This video from the Continuing Feducation series provides a short overview of credit scores—how they are determined and why they are important.

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Understanding how a FICO Credit Score is Determined, Presented by: Econ Lowdown.

FICO is a company that uses statistics and mathematical formulas called algorithms to determine a person's credit score.

A FICO score is the most common credit score used to determine loan eligibility and the interest rates a person pays.

A credit score is a person's financial story packed into a three-digit number, which indicates a person's credit risk. Your credit score is compiled of information found in your credit report.

A credit report is a loan and bill payment history kept by a credit bureau. Financial institutions and other potential creditors use credit reports to determine the likelihood of debt repayment.

Credit scoring companies use statistics to determine the risk associated with lending. They do not use data such as sex, age, race or religion to determine the likelihood of repayment. FICO and other credit scoring companies are always updating their formulas, but here are the categories that FICO generally includes in the development of its credit scores with a rough estimate of the emphasis they place on each category.

Payment History accounts for roughly 35 percent of the credit score; Amounts Owed Relative to Limits accounts for roughly 30 percent, Length of Credit History accounts for about 15 percent, Frequency of New Credit accounts for roughly 10 percent and Types of Credit Used accounts for about 10 percent.

Let's quickly break down each category.

Payment History takes into account any bills paid late, including how many are late, how late they are, how recent the most recent delinquency was and the total amount owed. This is where people can sometimes find themselves in trouble with credit. The good news is that, over time, older entries, including negative entries, disappear from your credit report, typically seven years for late payments, and 10 years for bankruptcy filings.

Amounts owed Relative to Limits is your debt-to-credit ratio. Say you have five credit cards, each with a $20,000 limit. That means you've got a $100,000 credit limit. You may only be using 10 percent of that, and that's positive; however, if that means you've maxed out on one card, that's negative. It's best to keep your debt-to-credit ratio below 50 percent.

Length of Credit History takes the average length of time you have had your credit card accounts into consideration. The longer history you have of making payments on time, the better your credit score.

Frequency of New Credit is important because if you have a lot of newly issued credit in your credit history – whether new loans or new credit cards —lenders may be concerned about your ability to repay all of this new debt. Therefore, they will be less likely to lend you money.

While examining Types of Credit used, lenders prefer to see that you are capable of handling different types of credit. So, someone who only has credit card debt will probably not have as good a score as someone who has demonstrated good payment habits on installment loans, mortgage loans and student loans, as well as credit card debt.

All of this is important because your credit score affects your ability to rent an apartment, buy car insurance at lower premiums, and obtain credit at lower interest rates. That's right: A good credit score will save you money.

Here's an example: Kim Min Yeo and Lee Soo Young are applying for a $10,000 loan. Both look like qualified candidates, they both live in the same city and work at the same company.

Let's see if their FICO score tells a different story.

Min Yeo pays all his bills on time and in full, he usually uses about 10 percent of his total credit limit, and he's had the same credit cards since college.

Soo Young, on the other hand, frequently forgets to pay her bills on time, she uses over 50 percent of her credit limit and, when she maxes out a credit card, she opens a new account.

Who do you think would have a higher credit score, and as a result be more likely to obtain a loan with a better interest rate?That's right -- Min Yeo would, because his credit score is closer to 800 while Soo Young's is closer to 600.

Suppose that Min Yeo received a 5 percent simple interest rate on the $10,000 loan while Soo Young received an 8 percent simple interest rate. Over the course of a year, Min Yeo would pay $500 in interest while Soo Young would pay $800 in interest. That's $300 more interest than Min Yeo. She could have saved or used that $300 to purchase something else. So your credit score does matter.

Let's recap. To maintain a good credit score: Pay all bills on time and in full, this way you avoid late fees. Avoid opening new credit card accounts or installment loans. Keep your debt-to-credit ratio low. Don't cancel your oldest credit cards as length of credit history is important, And, remember, monitor your credit reports.

By law each of the three credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, must provide you with a free credit report every year. You can obtain these free copies by visiting: Remember each of these reports may vary slightly from the others – So, it's important to check all three.

Now you understand a little more about how a FICO credit score is determined. Visit and the education resources for more information on credit and other topics.

Continuing Feducation brought to you by Econ Lowdown.

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Audience:   High School, Consumers, Middle School, College
Language:   English
Subjects:   Personal Finance, Career and Technical Education
Resource Types:   Video
Concepts:   Risk, Credit