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What Are UltraFICO and the Other New Credit Scores?

FICO has three new credit scoring methods that change how your score is calculated: UltraFICO, FICO 10 & FICO 10 T. Here’s what’s changing and what it may mean for you.

By Allan Halcrow | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

7 Min Read | August 4, 2021 in Credit Score

 

At-A-Glance

Three new FICO products are changing the way FICO calculates your credit score.

Each of these products has a different purpose, and each has the potential to impact your score in positive or negative ways.

You can take steps to maximize the positive potential of these FICO changes.

FICO is changing the way it generates your credit score by adding three major new credit scoring products to its portfolio: UltraFICO, FICO 10, and FICO 10 T. Each of these has a different purpose, and each has the potential to affect your score in positive – or negative – ways. None of them is being used widely yet; but you could see their use cause changes to your score soon, so understanding how and why the changes may occur can help you prepare for them.

 
In a nutshell, the three are:

  • UltraFICO: For people with no credit history or a prior history of credit distress, UltraFICO lets you choose to add new kinds of data to your credit profile to help you demonstrate responsible credit use.
  • FICO 10: This new version of FICO’s flagship credit scoring model aims to better differentiate between people with good and bad credit habits. It’s likely to push many credit scores lower and many others higher.
  • FICO 10 T: By adding “trended” data – like checking and savings account balances over the course of multiple years – FICO 10 T aims to better predict your credit-related behavior.

 

What Is UltraFICO? 

Although the new FICO 10 Suite has the potential to affect all of us, UltraFICO will be relevant only to those who opt in. UltraFICO is a joint venture of FICO, the credit reporting agency Experian, and the consumer financial data firm Finicity. It’s designed specifically for two groups:

  • People who have very little credit history (known in the credit scoring industry as “thin files”).
  • People working to rebuild their credit.

The intent is to give people a chance to boost their scores by showing lenders what FICO calls “indicators of sound financial behavior.” That translates to granting FICO access to your money market, checking, and savings accounts to show that you’re good at managing your cash flow. Exactly how that data intersects with the data typically used to calculate your credit score is unknown; FICO regards its formula as secret.


Those most likely to benefit from UltraFICO are people in the credit score “gray zone,” or middle ranges, with scores from the upper 500s to the lower 600s. For more on ranges, see “Credit Score Ranges: What is an Excellent, Good, or Poor Credit Score?” Ideally, the boost will be enough to help people who would otherwise be denied credit, or help people get a more favorable interest rate. To opt in for UltraFICO:

  • You can’t have been overdrawn in any account within the previous three months.
  • You must have maintained an average savings balance of at least $400 over the previous three months.

FICO says that as many as 70% of people who meet those criteria could see a boost to their scores.1 Exactly how much of a boost is unclear, but early results show that about 40% of “credit newbies” saw a lift of 20 points or more, while about 10% of people rebuilding credit saw a similar boost.2 If you’re in one of the target groups, those improvements may make UltraFICO sound worthwhile, but here are five things to be aware of:

  • Unlike all other FICO scores, to benefit from UltraFICO you’ll need to opt in. You can do that for free at the FICO website.
  • To have lenders consider your UltraFICO score, you’ll have to request that they pull it. If they have pulled your standard FICO first, which is a common scenario, the two scores will count as only one “hard” inquiry – the kind that can affect your credit score.
  • At present, Experian is the only credit reporting agency using UltraFICO. FICO says it expects UltraFICO to be widely available over time. But for now, if your lender uses another credit bureau you won’t be able to use the new score.
  • For FICO to access the information that drives UltraFICO, you’ll need to provide all your banking information, including your account numbers and online banking login and password. You may want to consider the potential security implications of that before you proceed.
  • Finally, just because you qualify for credit doesn’t always mean it’s worth the risk. Remember that managing cash and managing credit are different skills. An honest conversation with yourself about your financial habits is likely a good idea.

 

What Is FICO 10? 

Of the three new FICO products, FICO 10 will probably have the most impact because it could potentially affect everyone with a credit history – as many as 40 million people could see their scores drop by at least 20 points.3 If your score is on the line between good and fair, that may mean the difference between getting a loan or not, or getting a more favorable interest rate. On the other hand, another 40 million people with better credit histories could see their scores pushed at least 40 points higher.

 
These changes are the likely result of FICO’s strategy to integrate more data about the total amount of your debt – and the rate and frequency at which you pay it down – into your credit score. Specifically, with FICO 10:

  • Delinquencies will hurt more. Late payments are expected to lead to a bigger drop in your score than in previous FICO versions.
  • Credit card debt will count more. Your credit utilization rate (the percentage of available credit that’s in use) has always been a key factor in calculating your credit score, but your FICO 10 score may drop if you typically carry a balance on your credit cards rather than paying them in full each month.
  • Personal loans may lower your score. FICO 10’s approach may penalize people who use unsecured loans, depending on how their total debt shifts after obtaining the loan. 

 

What Is FICO 10 T?

Unlike the basic FICO 10, which recalibrates data already being considered in your credit score, FICO 10 T is designed to embrace trended data. Instead of providing a brief snapshot of your credit score at any given moment, trended data gives lenders insight into 24 months or more of your historical credit data.  That data may include account balances, minimum payment requirements, and the amounts you actually paid each month. This trended data generated by FICO 10 T (sometimes called time-series data) gives lenders perspectives they didn’t previously have:

  • Helps to see if you’re paying down debt, maintaining, or falling behind. If you’re paying off debt, you’ll be rewarded with a credit score boost; if you’re not, you’ll likely see your number drop. For example, if lenders see that you used a loan to consolidate your debt and are paying it off, it will probably help your credit score. But if you pay off your credit cards with a loan and then run up the balances again, you’ll likely see a substantial drop.
  • Smooths out the highs and lows of credit card use. For example, if you charge a lot on your card one month (let’s say you’re on vacation or doing your holiday shopping) and then pay it off, it won’t hurt your score as much as it would have under earlier versions of FICO. That’s because lenders can focus on your trend of low utilization vs. a snapshot of high utilization.

 

Remember: The New Credit Scores Are Still FICO Scores

Despite new features of these products, keep in mind they are still FICO scores and remain primarily based on the same factors FICO credit scores have always used. So, in general, the ways to develop and maintain a good credit score have stayed the same:

  • Pay your bills on time.
  • Limit what you borrow to 30% or less of the total credit available to you.
  • Don’t apply for credit too often.

If you do those things, you can increase your chances of reaping the benefits of the new FICO products.

 

The Takeaway

FICO is introducing three new credit scoring products, all of which incorporate data that didn’t previously figure into FICO scores. FICO 10 and 10 T have the potential to benefit people who are actively paying down their debt, while UltraFICO assesses how you handle cash as a way to boost marginal credit scores. You can take steps now to maximize the benefits of these FICO changes.

Allan Halcrow

Allan Halcrow is a freelance writer concentrating in business, human resources, and diversity and inclusion. He is also the author of four books on management.

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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