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Changes to FICO scores: What you need to know

By Marley Jay
Associated Press

Changes are coming to FICO, a broadly used credit score, that may mean higher credit scores for many consumers. Banks, credit card issuers, auto lenders and other businesses use those scores to decide whether to lend to consumers and how much interest to charge them. A higher score could get you better terms on loans for cars and homes.

What are the changes?

Fair Isaac Corp., the company behind FICO, says there are three significant changes to its metric, which it says is used in 90 percent of U.S. consumer lending decisions.

• Debts that go to collections agencies and get repaid won’t count against a consumer’s FICO score.

• Medical debts will have a smaller effect on the score. If your only major bad mark comes from unpaid medical debts, FICO says it expects your credit score to go up by 25 points. (Scores range from 300 to 850.)

• A technique to analyze people’s creditworthiness if they don’t have much of a credit history.

Why are changes happening?

Regulators have focused on health care debts. In May the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said consumers may be penalized too harshly for medical debt. The CFPB said medical bills are different from some other types of debts because they can be more expensive, unpredictable and caused by disputes between medical providers and insurers instead of bills consumers simply didn’t pay.

The CFPB said that consumers who owe medical debt may have their credit scores underestimated by about 10 points.

Who will be most affected?

Greg McDaniels, chief financial analyst for financial services company Bankrate, says the change will help many consumers, but it won’t make a big difference if you already have bad credit or very good credit. For consumers with medical debt, this could be the difference between a decent score of around 675 and a good one around 700, or a good score and a great one around 725.

When do the changes take effect?

Fair Isaac hopes lenders will use the newest version of FICO, which will be available in the fall. But lenders don’t have to buy the updated version.

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