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What do credit card issuers look at besides your FICO score?

By , CardRatings contributor
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    There's a lot of worry going around about the FICO credit score. For good reason. You've heard a lot about how it's not to be trifled with.

    Managing a FICO credit score can be a little like what it must be like to diffuse a bomb. Carry too much debt, and ka-blooey!

    Never, ever carry debt, and that decision can blow up in your face, too, since your FICO score may drop. Apply for too many credit cards at one time, like a balance transfer offer and a gas card, and your FICO score once, again, can - BOOM! We'd mention what happens after you take out an expensive car loan, especially after loading up on student loans, but we're running out of cartoonish sound effects.

    But what exactly is a FICO score anyway?

    We worry, for good reason, about the FICO score. It was created eons ago by the Fair Isaac Corp. and it's an important tool that lenders use when they decide whether to offer you credit. Your FICO score is a numerical snapshot of your financial health. It takes into consideration the length of your credit history, your consistency in paying your bills on time, how much credit is available to you and how much of it your regularly use (that's your credit utilization ratio) and what types of credit you have (credit cards, a mortgage, a car loan, etc.) and a few other factors. It basically helps lenders assess whether you're likely to be a good, safe investment to their money or a potentially negligent risk.

    In fact, the lower your FICO score, which runs from 300 to 850, the lower the odds that you'll get good loan terms, and you may not be offered any loan at all. But many consumers are likely unaware that it's not the only tool that lenders use. In other words, yes, you can "worry" about so much more than just your FICO score.

    And the word, worry, is in quotes because you really shouldn't worry about this stuff. Be informed. Be alert. But life's too important to stress out over this.

    What other scores do I need to know?

    For instance, there's VantageScore, which was created by the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Like FICO, a VantageScore works on a 300-850 scale, and according to VantageScore, between June 2016 and 2017, the most recent year available, 4.9 billion VantageScore credit scores were looked at by credit card issuers when evidently trying to decide whether to offer a loan or raise or lower a credit limit.

    And, hey, wait, there's more. For instance, there's a TransUnion New Account Score 2.0. (and a TransUnion New Account Score 3.0.) There's an Equifax Credit Score as well. And scores of other scores.

    What does my FICO score tell lenders? What about my other scores?

    Look, there's no sense in sweating over what various scores are saying about you. The important thing in all of this is that you're responsible with your finances and the score will take care of itself. Just pay your bills on time, try not to carry a lot of debt and maintain a decent amount of available credit - and all of your scores should be right where you want them to be. But here's a rundown of why some of these scores exist.

    FICO Score. This is generally used to help decide if you can be given a loan to buy a house, a car or get a credit card. And here's a fun fact: There are other types of FICO credit scores, like the FICO NextGen Credit Score, the FICO Industry Option Score and the FICO 9 Credit Score. The higher your score, the better the loan terms you'll get (700s are very good to great; 800s are the top of the top… if you've met someone with an 850 score, they are probably a fictional billionaire).

    VantageScore. Like FICO, it's used by a lot of lenders to look at your creditworthiness for a lot of loans. What a pleasant thought.

    TransUnion 2.0 and 3.0. Lenders look at this score to get a sense of how likely you are to default in the next 90 days.

    Equifax Credit Score. It's pretty much like FICO and VantageScore in that some lenders use this to judge your creditworthiness - but FICO and VantageScore are the better known and arguably more popular ones.

    "What is an application score" and other info beyond FICO scores

    You could live a thousand lifetimes and not know what you need to know, but we know what you mean. Those were the main credit scores, but lenders look at other scores - beyond credit scores - as well.

    In fact, credit card issuers often make decisions based on numerous other scores, from a bankruptcy score (how likely you are to, well, lose your proverbial shirt) to a behavior score (are you the sort of person who pays their balances off every month or just the minimum?) to a response score (so creditors will know how likely you are to reply to an offer in the mail). If you're really curious about these scores, you may want to check out Liz Weston's book, "Your Credit Score: How to Improve Your Credit Score: How to Improve the 3-Digit Number That Shapes Your Financial Future."

    There are other obscure scores like the application score, which is one of the more boring scores, but also one of the more important ones, especially when it comes to applying for a credit card

    Your application score is a code that results from all the data you provide on your credit application. The application score determines whether you get your loan (or card) and what the terms are, such as your interest rate.

    In other words, bomb your application score, and you can forget about getting a new credit card.

    In fact, John Ulzheimer, a nationally recognized credit scoring expert and president of Ulzheimer Group LLC, says that credit card issuers often put more weight on the application score than the FICO score.

    But don't stress over it. Seriously.

    "There isn't much you can do to change your application score, frankly," says Ulzheimer.

    That said, if you're applying for a credit card, you obviously want to try to get a high application score, so fill out the form carefully.

    "The rule of thumb is to not leave blank spaces," says Ulzheimer. "If you do that [leave blank spaces], the credit card issuer will penalize you as if you gave the least attractive answer. The best thing you can do is answer the application's questions as honestly as you can."

    For instance, lenders like to see that you have a full-time job and the longer you've had it, the better. So you wouldn't want to skip that question (but you also wouldn't want to lie on that question; no need to set yourself up for a future lawsuit if you were accepted and later couldn't pay it off).

    Ulzheimer also says that having a checking account and a savings account is important. "They generally want to see that savings account so they know you have something to depend on if you lose your job," adds Ulzheimer.

    So that's another area on the application you don't want to leave blank or scribble down the account number and mistakenly put in the wrong number.

    And if you are declined, or you get accepted but are curious and want to see your application score, don't bother asking a credit card company to see it. They're unlikely to grant you that request. (On the other hand, you're entitled by law to get a free credit score from each credit card bureau every year, which is highly advisable and you can do at AnnualCreditReport.com). Besides, even if you somehow got a old of your application score, you wouldn't be able to make heads or tails out of it anyway, says Ulzheimer.

    "Your application score might be an L or a Z, instead of the numbers we have for FICO. It might be a series of characters," Ulzheimer says. "These application scores are largely machine readable."

    Another interesting score, but one you have little control over: the revenue score.

    That makes sense, you are probably thinking. Nobody expects to be given a credit card if they aren't bringing in revenue.

    Except that the revenue score has nothing to do with your own income. It has to do with how much money the credit card issuer expects to make from you.

    "Revenue scores are commonly referred to as marketing scores. It helps [banks] make better decisions as to who they want to market to," Ulzheimer says.

    "So, in order to help raise my revenue score, should I try to start carrying a little revolving debt?" you may be asking. "Should I pay my credit card bills a couple days late to trigger a late fee, since that late fee will go to the credit card company?"

    You probably know the answer, but just in case you're thinking that sounds like a good idea, um… no.

    Ted Connolly, a bankruptcy lawyer who works for a real estate and business development company in Boston and the is the author of "The Road Out of Debt," cautions, "I would hesitate from advising anyone to take steps to raise the revenue score. Credit card companies make the most money from those cardholders who have the highest interest rates."

    In fact, as Ulzheimer notes, "There's no value to the consumer to improve their revenue score, unless [they] want to get more credit card offers in the mail."

    Besides, the last thing you want to do is help your revenue score but hurt your FICO credit score. A useful way to look at it: A healthy revenue and application score, along with some of those other obscure scores, benefits the credit card companies; a good FICO credit score benefits you. And if you have a good FICO credit score, you are much more likely to get the best terms when applying for a credit card.

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