NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Jeremy Kyner only became aware of his FICO score three years ago while buying a home in San Antonio.
“If I had not bought a house, I don’t think a FICO score would have crossed my mind,” said the 28-year-old massage therapist.
But the FICO score, a measure of creditworthiness created by the Fair Isaac Corp. and used at the three main credit rating bureaus, is an essential metric for determining whether a consumer gets a loan and at what rate: use of this assessment at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion goes into calculating what is commonly accepted as a person's credit score, ranging from 300 on the low end to 850 on the high end.
As such, being aware of this personal finance finger print is important for any consumer thinking about a loan, and there are cheap or free ways to know your credit standing.
Just last month, Experian announced it would offer FICO Scores as part of their direct-to-consumer product services.
"Experian's move is relevant, because the FICO score appears to have replaced the Experian PLUS score as the score that is made available to consumers," said John Ulzheimer, a financial expert with CreditSesame.com. "The PLUS score is a perfectly capable credit score, but it is not used by lenders so there has always been a question as to its relevance and value."
Consumers can also purchase their Experian credit report and FICO Score for $19.95 on Experian’s website; however, scoring based on data from the three credit bureaus Equifax, TransUnion and Experian is also available at myFICO.com for $19.95 and without charge through certain credit card companies.
It's not always necessary to shell out money to know your financial status.
“A variety of credit card issuers disclose to cardholders their FICO scores each month on their statements,” Ulzheimer told MainStreet. “This program is called Open Access and has been around since 2013.”
BarclayCard and Discover are among the participants.
To boot, using a website like CreditKarma or CreditSesame can give you a good indication of where you stand, even if the score provided is not comprehensive from all of the credit bureaus.
Why a Good Score Is Essential
FICO Scores are used in 90% of credit decisions to determine applicant eligibility for new credit cards, car loans, mortgages and other lines of credit, according to Experian, and although Kyner doesn’t think twice about his stellar credit score, many more consumers track it.
“There are a number of factors that help determine a person’s credit score,” said Guy Abramo, president with Experian Consumer Servicest. “They are all derived from an individual’s credit report.”
Total level of credit indebtedness, ages of accounts and the number of on-time or late payments all contribute to an individual’s FICO score.
“These are proven to be predictive of a person’s credit risk,” said Abramo. Other determinants to a consumer’s credit report are payment history, amount owed, length of credit history, pursuit of new credit and types of credit used.
“When paying bills late, an individual runs the risk of creating a negative payment history,” Abramo said.
Improving a FICO score requires being responsible and paying bills on time to demonstrate a positive credit history.
"A FICO Score that's in the 700 and above range usually suggests that a person is good at handling his or her credit," said Abramo. "A good FICO Score can help you gain access to favorable loan terms and interest rates."
-Written for MainStreet by Juliette Fairley