Comparing different FICO scores for mortgage, credit card, and auto lending

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Or, more accurately, I should ask you if you know your FICO scores (plural) because the credit scoring giant calculates several versions of your credit worthiness number, based on which lender is looking.

When lenders come to FICO to access your credit score, there could be wild variations in the number they received, depending on what kind of loan you’re applying for. It’s estimated that FICO (originally The Fair Isaacs Corporation), the preeminent scoring model in the industry, generates up to 56 different versions of your FICO score! (But according to FICO, their FICO Score 8 is now the version used most frequently.)

While it would take a very long time for us to document the difference between all 56 of these scores (and you would get very bored reading it,) we can outline the different between FICO scores that are used for mortgage lending, buying a car, applying for a credit card, and other banking.

Mortgages

FICO scores 2, 4, and 5, are most frequently used when a mortgage lender accesses your credit to see if you’re eligible for a home loan, contained under an umbrella product known as the residential mortgages credit report, or RMCR. RMCR’s contain history and scores from all three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Duplicate information is purged from these reports before the final version is issued, and therefore this is often called a merged report.

Mortgage lenders typically use the middle of these three credit scores to get an accurate representation. So if you have credit scores of 762, 715, and 685, the lenders will use the middle score, or 715 in this case, for their decisions. They do this to discount the instances where creditors might not report to all three credit bureaus, therefore making scores vary wildly.

RMCRs also contain information about a consumer’s employment and resident history, which lenders may want for verification purposes to cross check against applications, as well as any history of bankruptcies, foreclosures, judgments, or other legal records.

RMCRs are specifically suited to gauge the risk of a borrower repaying a mortgage loan, and therefore the information is prioritized and calculated accordingly, so it will be different from reports pulled by auto dealerships, credit card companies, banks, and even most credit monitoring websites and services.

Credit cards

The credit score requirements for credit card lending are far less universal and systematized than those for mortgage lending, since there are so many banks and credit card companies, each of which may use slightly different rules. For instance, a credit card lender may only use one or two credit scores to make their decisions but they also don’t reveal which ones they use.

However, they often do include a FICO score a FICO Bankcard score. But credit card companies also frequently use their own in house credit scoring system – not the replace FICO scores, but to add an additional level of scrutiny and screening.

To make this even more like trying to hit a moving target with a dart, the credit card companies periodically change and update their in-house scoring systems, and even requirements, as a concession when they reevaluate their portfolio to minimize risk. So if they see an a-typical period of defaults or late payments from their borrowers, they may shift their underwriting criteria and in-house scoring model accordingly to try and prevent that in the future.

The credit scores used by credit card companies also are not as universal as those used by mortgage lenders because credit card lending lacks governing federal agencies, like the major mortgage agencies FNMA, FHLMC, and FHA. With all of these variations, it’s not wonder your FICO Bankcard score will be different than your RMCR!

Auto loans
If you thought the credit card industry’s use of scoring is unpredictable, wait until we delve into the whacky world of auto lending. Auto lenders use what is known as FICO Auto score, which is specially tailored to take into account the behaviors and patterns of auto borrowers and the car lending industry.

Not surprisingly, FICO Auto calculates scores with a priority on auto loan repayment history, and deemphasizes mortgages and credit cards. It also gives a higher rating to various other installment debt, which more closely resembles auto loans. Due to those variations, your FICO Auto score could easily differ from your regular FICO score by 15-20 points or more – either up or down!

While there is transparency in mortgage lending (lenders have to disclosure what information they are using to base their decisions on, i.e. your credit report), the auto lending industry offers no such disclosure. Instead, auto lenders use their own proprietary system that only they can access. That puts a consumer at a great disadvantage when buying a car and applying for financing from the dealership itself, as there is no way to know what score they are really looking at when quoting rates, programs, and payments. (But we all know auto sales people have never lied!)

Additionally, auto dealers won’t prequalify you for an auto loan first, as is the case when shopping for a home and having your mortgage sorted out first. Instead, you’ll have to commit to a certain car and only then will they process the lending part, cornering you into a purchase. In fairness, auto lenders say they do this so they don’t waste time and money pulling credit for people who aren’t serious about buying a car, or just shopping around.

You can negate this limitation by applying for a car loan in advance with a bank, credit union, or online auto lender, so you’ll be armed with approximate interest rate, payment, and maximum price range information by the time you walk into a dealership.

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So there are the three types of credit scores FICO will produce for you, depending on who is asking for it and what type of loan you’re applying for. While you may not always have control over lending decisions and how these scores are calculated, and you can maintain a great overall score with any lender by always paying on time, maintaining a low credit utilization rate, and having the right mix of installment and revolving debt that is well seasoned. Contact us if you have any questions!

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