Business

Business

Choices for credit-score reports dwindle

February 12, 2009

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Effective Valentine’s Day, you will no longer be able to get your FICO credit score from Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus.

The company notified Fair Isaac Corp., the firm that created the credit-scoring model most used by lenders, that it is terminating its relationship with myFICO.com, a Web site that sold FICO credit scores and other information directly to consumers. This means generally that Experian customers will not be able to see the FICO scores lenders are using in determining their credit levels.

Although a number of credit-scoring models are available, the Fair Isaac technology is most used by lenders. According to data from Fair Isaac, more than 90 of the 100 largest financial institutions use FICO scores. The 25 largest card issuers use it, as do the 25 largest auto lenders.

Credit-scoring models apply a mathematical formula to a consumer’s credit history. They use the same range of factors — most importantly, late payments and the amount of debt owed — to produce a three-digit score supposed to judge a person’s likelihood of repaying debt.

This issue comes down to consumers having access to what most lenders are using to grade them — and that is usually a FICO score.

“Experian’s Valentine’s Day present to 200 million American adults is to make sure they have no access at all to any Experian-based credit score that is widely used by lenders,” said Craig Watts, public relations director for Fair Isaac.

Consumers will still be able to obtain FICO scores based on data from their files at Equifax or TransUnion, the other legs of the Big Three credit bureaus.

The squabble between Experian and Fair Isaac follows a lawsuit Fair Isaac filed in 2006 against Experian, Equifax and TransUnion after the three developed a competing model called VantageScore, which uses a different scale from FICO.

VantageScore’s scale ranges from a low of 501 to a high of 990. In the case of the FICO score, it runs from a low of 300 to a high of 850.

Since filing the lawsuit, Fair Isaac has dropped Equifax from the litigation. The suit is still ongoing, alleging that the VantageScore joint venture created unfair competition and violated antitrust laws.

“We were working hard to develop a positive business relationship with Fair Isaac and the litigation has not helped in that effort,” said Experian spokesperson Susan Henson.

This only leaves me to conclude that Experian doesn’t value its individual consumers enough to work out its differences with Fair Isaac to continue allowing the same valuable access to their individual FICO scores.

You may still be able to get a look at your Experian FICO score by simply asking your lender. In some mortgage transactions, you are entitled to the credit score without charge. You can also complain to the company. And you can complain to Congress, which has power to force transparency and make the most widely used credit-scoring system available to the public for free.

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