Have you checked your FICO credit score lately? If not, you may be in for a surprise. According to a report released by the Associated Press, 25.5 percent of Americans or 43.4 million people, have been deemed poor risks for having credit scores of 599 or below on the FICO scoring model.
Between high unemployment and limited access to credit, many consumers will find it increasingly difficult to qualify for affordable mortgages, automobile loans, credit cards, insurance, or even employment.
As a rating system created by the Fair Issac Corporation, FICO scores are based upon information contained in a consumer’s credit profile. The formula utilized in creating such a credit score has become standard within the industry. Lower credit scores mean missed opportunities in obtaining credit, goods, benefits, services, insurance and/or employment.
Data provided by Fair Issac shows an alarming number of consumers on the fringe of its scoring range, which runs from 300 to 850, with fewer consumers in the middle of that range. As of June, FICO’s analysis of consumer credit profiles showed:
- 25.5 percent of consumers have FICO scores below 600. This is a major increase from the 15 percent who have had scores below that level historically.
- 11.9 percent of consumers have FICO scores between 650 and 699. This is a slight decrease from the 15 percent who were in this range historically.
- 17.9 percent of consumers have FICO scores of 800 or above. This is up from the historical average of 13 percent but down from 18.7 percent in April 2008, just months before the recession shifted into high gear.
With record foreclosure rates, high unemployment and the role that banks have played in credit granting decisions, one should not be surprised about the decline in FICO credit scores. Between job losses and the drastic drop in property values, creditors have made a bad economy even worse by closing or reducing credit lines and increasing interest rates prior to the enactment of the Credit Card Act of 2009.
While most families have drastically cut back on expenses and even paid down existing debt, many are unaware that FICO scores compare existing debt levels to credit limits. As such, closed or reduced credit lines will significantly reduce a credit score by making it appear that the consumer is maxed out when, in fact, spending habits have actually improved.
On the other hand, higher interest rates have made it tougher for consumers to repay their existing debts. Prior to the enactment of the Credit Card Act of 2009, banks and creditors nationwide raised the annual percentage rates of their credit cards and products. To date, financial reform has done nothing to help the average consumer.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as modified by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report under a narrow set of circumstances.
If you are denied credit, goods, benefits, services, insurance, and/or employment, the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are statutorily mandated to provide a copy free of charge. Absent these exceptions, consumers are entitled to one free “annual credit report” per year. Credit scores are not included with any of the “free credit reports” provided by the national credit reporting agencies.
Equifax can be contacted at (800) 685-1111 or www.Equifax.com; Experian can be contacted at (888) 397-3742 or www.Experian.com; and Trans Union can be contacted at (800) 916-8800 or www.TransUnion.com.
For your free annual credit report, contact the central source of data at 877-FACT-ACT (877-322-8228) or www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Follow the voice prompts and obtain your credit report for review.
Although FICO credit scores are not currently provided by the credit reporting agencies without charge, one perk for consumers tucked into the “Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010”(HR 4173), passed by Congress is a requirement that anyone denied credit, goods, benefits, services, insurance, and/or employment because of their credit report must receive a free copy of their credit score.
Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.