Debt Handling: What Is FICO?
One very important element in your overall credit worthiness package is your FICO score. But what exactly is that and how does it affect your debt management choices?
FICO is an acronym formed from the letters of its founder, the Fair Isaac Corporation. It is a number between 400 and 800 that ranks credit worthiness according to a proprietary algorithm invented by the company, with 400 being worst and 800 being best. Other companies now have their own variations.
Though the details of the algorithms are closely held trade secrets, over the decades many people have reverse engineered several of the important factors. Any late payments will lower your score, and the more of them and the later they are, the more heavily the score is affected. The total amount of debt carried per month is another element. A less important factor is the number of credit cards and credit checks performed.
Any score below about 620 is considered marginal and below 580 is decidedly poor. 720 and above is very good to excellent. A range between 620 and 720 represents a kind of gray area, where items other than your FICO will play a more significant role in loan decisions.
Banks, mortgage companies, credit card issuers and other lenders will use your FICO score as a very important criteria for deciding whether to make a loan, and at what interest rate. Other things being equal the higher your score the better interest rate you can obtain.
Of course, many times all other things are not equal. Prevailing interest rates in general, the current demand for loans, the general economy and other factors have a heavy influence on the willingness of lenders to lend and at what rate.
Also, the entire lending industry has undergone at least two significant shifts in the last 20 years. With the increasing use of computers and modern financial techniques, underwriting loans is done very differently today. Also, not surprisingly, the Internet has shifted finance to a very different mode of working.
Even with all these changes, though - or, perhaps in part because of them - the FICO score remains a primary tool for lenders. It may not determine the final decision, but it definitely influences the 'first cut' when presented with a stack of applications to approve or disapprove.
Fortunately for those who have financially slipped, there are alternatives. Though your FICO may be low you nonetheless have several options. The first thing to do is set into motion a plan to improve your score.
As you work to remove those outstanding overdue debts - either through paying them off or negotiating with the lender - your FICO will gradually improve. The age of 30 day past due, 60 day past due (or longer) late payments is a factor in calculating your FICO.
At the same time, you can shop around for lenders willing to take a higher risk by lending you money. The downside is those loans almost always carry a higher interest rate. Your best approach is to try to forego borrowing for as long as possible while you work to improve your debt situation. Your FICO will follow suit.