New FICO Score Factors in Utilities, How Often You Move

FICO, creator of some of the most widely used credit scores in the U.S., is readying a new scoring formula designed to help high-risk consumers access credit, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The model will incorporatepayment history on things like utility, cellphone and cable bills, in addition to how often consumers change addresses.

Some consumers may have already been affected by the new score, which has yet to be named. FICO says it has been working with 12 credit card issuers, which were not disclosed in the Wall Street Journal report, to test the new score in lending decisions since November. The score is expected to be offered on a national scale by the end of the year, which will give lenders the ability to reliably score an additional 15 million consumers, according to FICO.

This announcement raises many questions about how the score will be used and how it may affect consumers who already have credit scores. FICO did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Credit.com, but here’s what we know so far.

What We Know About the New FICO Score

The score will open up credit access to as many as 53 million consumers who do not have credit scores or credit reports. Such “unscoreable” people generally can’t get credit products and may have trouble securing housing, utilities or a cellphone, because companies outside of the credit industry use credit history to make business decisions. Those credit histories come from the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Payment history with cable, cellphone, electric and gas bills generally aren’t reported to credit bureaus and aren’t traditionally used in credit scoring models, but they are the basis for the new FICO score. The payment information comes from an Equifax database of telecommunications and utilities providers. The score will also factor in how often a consumer changes addresses, in addition to other data included in a LexisNexis database that has yet to be described. Frequent address changes suggest instability, according to the Wall Street Journal article.

What We Don’t Know

So far, 10 credit card issuers have used the score, but it’s unclear how many and what kind of creditors will adopt the new FICO score. It may be of interest to many lenders, because it presents the opportunity to grow business and, as a result, make more money.

Consumers have a legal right to access information about them collected by consumer reporting agencies and dispute inaccuracies, but it’s unknown how consumers will be able to do that with the new data. Traditional scores are based on credit reports you can get for free each year. You can see get your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see how your reports affect your credit standing.

Perhaps some of the biggest unanswered questions are how many cable, cellphone, electric and gas companies will report this information and whether or not it will impact people who already have scores through traditional models.

For years, experts in the credit scoring industry have talked about the value of adding things like rent payments and utility bills to credit scores as a way of giving more people access to credit, but FICO has mostly stuck to its traditional formulas (rent payments do not seem to be included in this new model). The changes reported by the Wall Street Journal represent a huge shift from FICO, but how much it will impact the credit marketplace remains to be seen.

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