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Credit Scoring and the Lending Industry

When you apply for a mortgage, your lender will request a credit report from a credit reporting company. This is usually a local or regional company. This company pulls together a credit report electronically. It usually comes from one or more of the major repositories, but it can come from several sources.

Along with the information, the local credit reporting company receives a numerical score. The score represents a composite of the borrower's credit history, employment, ability to save, and so on. The most famous of these scores is known as the FICO score, which was a model developed by the Fair-Isaacs Company a number of years ago. It is believed that the Beacon and TransUnion scores are really scoring information provided by the Fair-Isaacs Company, but have been tweaked somewhat by the other bureaus. That is partly true, but what most people don't know is that, with information streaming into their credit file almost everyday, the scores can change daily. That is why someone can apply for a mortgage with one company today and have a FICO score of, say, 717, and apply with another lender a week later and that score can be higher or lower, depending on the information received at the repositories in the interim.

The truth is that the Fair-Isaacs Company and the major credit repositories do not divulge how the scoring model works. Due to the level of erroneous reporting to peoples' credit files, there has been pressure on Congress lately to make the credit repositories more accountable for the accuracy of the information they report AND to divulge what goes into the scoring models, so that people can know what to do to improve their scores.

Why is this important? The lending industry is moving toward "risk-based" pricing. In plain English, this means that the higher one's credit scores, the less paper they will have to provide to prove that they are creditworthy AND the interest rate and/or fees a borrower pays will be based on the level of their scores.

This system, while perhaps unfair to some, will be great for those who maintain impeccable credit. It's one way that good credit risks can be rewarded. In the past year, we in the industry have already seen a dramatic reduction in paperwork requirements and "risk-based" pricing (rates and fees) has become commonplace.

If you have recently obtained your credit report and you are not happy with what was reported, you can take steps to correct the erroneous information on it. There are also proactive things you can do to improve your scores, if you are anticipating applying for a mortgage anytime soon. While I intend to go into the details of correcting erroneous credit information in Part II, I can give you a few hints now as to how to be proactive in improving your scores from where you are today.

The first is the most obvious. Pay all your payments on time. The second is, don't apply for any new credit unnecessarily. Every time you sign and return a new credit card offering, or open that second account at a department store because you get a 15% discount, an inquiry will be generated and that will reduce your score. The third is that if you must maintain credit card balances, try to keep them at a level that is 35% - 40% of the maximum credit limit. In other words, if the credit limit is $1,000, try to keep your running balance below $400. Believe it or not, consolidating all your credit cards onto one can hurt you, if the balance is at the credit limit. The fourth is, if you get into a dispute with the phone company and it isn't a huge amount, pay it and move on. Having one or more collections, even if they are small amounts, can really hurt your score.

There are many more tidbits, but I will save them for the next sections, when I will also discuss how to correct erroneous credit information.

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