Your FICO® Credit Score - Part 1

4 essential things you need to know.

You've probably heard of a "FICO score" and know it has to do with your credit—and that it’s important. But there are a lot of things about your credit rating you may not fully understand. This article, Part 1 of 2, answers 4 essential questions: (1) what ingredients make up your score; (2) what different scores mean; (3) who calculates your scores; and (4) how you can get your credit reports and scores - for FREE. Later, in Part 2 of this series, we’ll look at how you can fix errors in your credit report, avoid problems that hurt your credit score, and improve your credit rating.

1. What exactly is a FICO Score? Your FICO® score is a number from 300-850 that reflects how safe (or risky) it is for a lender to let you borrow money. Lenders use it when you try to buy a home or a car, or apply for a credit card, personal loan or student loan. Your score lets lenders know, at a glance:

  • if you pay off your loans reliably (or not);
  • how much money might be safe (or risky) to lend you; and
  • what interest rate you should get, based on your financial reliability (or risk).

Your score is calculated from detailed credit reports—about payments you’ve made to lenders in the past and how much credit and debt you have now. There are 5 factors in your score:

2. Is my score good? The higher your score, the better you look (the lower your risk) to lenders. In 2016, the average FICO® score in the U.S. was 699. Although FICO® has 4 official rankings (excellent, good, average and poor), the 5 ranges shown below might be more meaningful estimates:

3. Who decides what my score is? FICO® is short for Fair Isaac Corporation, a software and data analysis firm that tries to predict consumer behavior for its clients. FICO® calculates your credit score from credit reports provided by “credit bureaus.”

There are 3 credit bureaus in the U.S.: Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

Credit reports contain detailed information about you and your credit history, including: personal identifying data, like your Social Security number; credit accounts you’ve had; inquiries that have been made by lenders about your credit; and other information like liens, collections and bankruptcies. Each of the 3 credit bureaus may have slightly different information about you, and each has its own credit score variation (the Equifax scale is 280-850, Experian 360-840 and Transunion 300-850).

4. How can I get my credit reports and scores?

Credit Reports:

You are entitled by law to a FREE copy of your credit reports once every 12 months.

To get a free credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus, go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228.

You are also entitled to free credit reports if you are a victim of identity theft, unemployed, or have been denied credit.

Non-profit credit counselors can help you get your free credit reports. You can find approved credit counseling agencies at this U.S. Department of Justice web page.

Credit Scores:

Experian offers FREE online access to the credit score (and report) they have for you at www.freecreditscore.com. Some credit card companies also provide FREE credit scores, as do many auto financing companies—just ask the lender who financed your car.

For a fee, many companies offer a variety of credit-related services, including access to your credit scores. But beware of companies that offer “free reports” only if you subscribe to their services. Use the free resources first!

For more detailed information on credit reporting, visit this Federal Trade Commission web page.

Explore more of our  Money Management 101 page to find tips for dealing with debt smartly, or speak to one of our representatives to learn more about the personal banking services we offer that can help set you on a path toward greater financial independence.