What Goes Into Your FICO?

How the heck do they figure out your FICO credit score? The five different factors, in order of decreasing importance are: 1) payment history 2) amounts owed 3) length of credit history 4) new credit 5) types of credit used. For a bit more detailed explanation on how each of these plays out, the “What’s in your FICO score” at myFico.com is a good place to start.


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  1. boricuachick says:

    In 2004, I was $16,000 in debt, had a credit score in the low 600’s and wondered how I managed to get into card trouble again! after a bankruptcy in 1998.

    In 2008, I am happy to report that I paid off ALL my credit card debt, my bankruptcy is OFF my credit report after 10 years, and I purchased my own home this year. My credit score is now 838. There were no short cuts. Just a dogged determination to pay my cards off and reexamine/change the way I use credit.

    • downwithmonstercable says:

      @boricuachick: That’s awesome! I don’t know what my FICO is, I haven’t checked since we bought our house 2 years ago. But I have perfect credit. I think the only thing that may hold me back is my credit history length, since I’m still a young buck.

      • madfrog says:


        Good for you! Another person who is acting responsibly for their mistakes. I went to Careone 4 years ago to consolidate and pay back over 30K in debt and in about 1 1/2 years I will be done. No bailout for me, and I sleep better at night.

    • JanetCarol says:

      @boricuachick: Awesome – everyone should be proud of you and someone should take you to dinner. Not me though, I’m working on paying off my debt! haha

    • halftank says:

      @boricuachick: Congratulations! That’s huge.

    • innout3x3 says:

      @boricuachick: I didn’t have the bankruptcy issue, but I definitely have the 16 g’s in credit card debt from college. It’s been tough, but not it’s down to less than 9 g’s. I’ve learned to really get rid of debt you need a fire hose and not a sprinkler.

  2. joeytribco says:

    Im in the 600+ boat. I have DECENT payment history but WAY too much credit for my income. And my CURRENT TO AVAILABLE available balance are is too high.

  3. dialing_wand says:

    While I monitor my credit history with some degree of regularity, I’ve never been able to figure out why, in the best of times it [FICO score] never exceeds 750-760 even when not carrying any balances on any line of credit (card or otherwise).

    I do wonder what “length of credit history” really entails? At 28 I have had a Mastercard in good (never delinquent) standing since I was 18. No other line of credit of mine is 10 years old (Amex sits at 6 years etc.., etc.,), but I am still reminded by Equifax or Transunion that the “short” length of my credit history may be penalizing me.

    How long does a history have to be to start working in my favour?

    • Rachacha says:

      @dialing_wand: Not sure about the length of time, but something that “penalized” me was the high amount of available credit that I had with respect to my annual income. Apparently I had too much available credit just sitting there waiting to be used and that reduced my credit score. Even though I used my credit card as merely a convenience and paid my bills in full every month on time, the fact that I had more available credit than my annual salary lowered my score a bit.

      • Sarcasmo48 says:

        @Rachacha: That is so damn backwards. You’d think the fact that you have excellent credit and don’t use it would be a positive, especially these days. But the CCs want it both ways. They WANT people that will spend a lot and carry high balances but they hate when so many of them default/go bankrupt. To me more available credit means you are responsible and NOT likely to go t*ts up. But why reward responsibility.

        • KStrike155 says:

          @Sarcasmo48: Because they don’t make any money on people that are responsible. The only way they make money is through finance charges and other fees. If you pay off your balance in full each month you’re using their service for free.

          I agree, though. I shouldn’t have my score penalized just because I’m responsible and pay off my balances in full each month (which I don’t because we’re about $15k in debt right now… don’t worry people, before you jump down my throat we pay $800/mo towards it).

          • jetfxr27 says:

            Dude, its not your score. Its a score created by lenders to see how much money they can suck from you. The score is not a wealth indicator, its I have debt , love debt and stay in debt score.

          • jlayman920 says:

            @KStrike155: Even if you pay your balance off in full every month you still aren’t using your credit card for free. Credit card companies make merchant fees off of each and every transaction you make whether it be $1 or $1000.

    • jnews says:

      @dialing_wand: The “Length of Credit History” should be a line item included in your credit report. On mine, it is the length of time since I opened up my first credit account, which has long been closed.

      Closing an account does not shorten the length of your credit history, but the generally accepted wisdom on consumerist is that the average length of your OPEN accounts is more important than the “length of credit history” item listed on your credit report.

      I’m becoming more persuaded by the idea that reporting agencies won’t give any real details about how they calculate scores because they don’t want us to find out how much of it is based on things that are merely prejudicial and not really controllable (ie, what neighborhood you live in).

      • dialing_wand says:


        Interesting. I wonder how much that really does affect anyone. My car insurance has changed as a result of a neighbourhood when I moved so I wouldn’t be surprised and they might as well admit it.

        From ACME Credit Reporting:

        The location of your residence may be adversely affecting your credit score. Please move into a neighbourhood you can’t afford with over-valued housing and douche-bag neighbours so that we may reward you with the blessed burden of uncontrollable debt and the accompanying illusion of endless spending.

        We’ll thank you for it later.

  4. ebeckstrom says:

    I enjoy how I can have a credit score of 820 but that still doesn’t mean that anyone wants to loan me some money to get a good deal on the cheap cars right now because I have ‘limited’ history, which involves paying off two vehicles and holding a credit card for a number of years, all with never a single late payment. It proves to me that these scores that are supposed to tell a lender how safe a person is really means nothing to them unless they want to use it to raise your interest rate.

    • supercereal says:

      @ebeckstrom: I can see the limited history agrument, though. Statistically, any collection of data is useless unless the sample set is large enough. That’s why you don’t see Major League Baseball handing out an MVP award because someone got a hit in their first at bat of the season (hey, after all, they do have a stellar 1.000 average).

  5. Trencher93 says:

    My credit card was bought out by the horrible Citi, who started delaying mailing me my statements so late that I could barely get the payment back to them by the due date. No, I am not going to let them have unlimited access to my checking account to withdraw money. And, no, changing the statement close date is not going to make any difference if it still takes them 2 weeks to mail the statement to me.

    So I got another card, but that counted AGAINST me on my credit score.

    I don’t think it’s right to be penalized for doing the right thing — I dumped the Citi card because they were trying their best to get me to pay late by delaying mailing my payment. So the hit for getting a new card is much less than the hit for an intentionally-late payment, but, still, why be penalized at all? Plus, anyone who dumps Citi is obviously good with money and ought to get a boost.

    So the FICO thing seems random and non-deterministic to me. No matter what you do, they’ll ding your score for some reason.

    • Swearengen says:


      Why are the Black Helicopter people always reluctant to use online payments? If you think Citi is screwing you by mailing you your statements late, just monitor them online and pay them on the day your statement closes. Problem solved. I have done this for years and have never had a problem. I’ve heard lots of people complain about giving access to a checking account, but I’ve never heard personally from anyone saying that money was taken that shouldn’t have been.

      • shepd says:
      • concordia says:

        @TancredoHelmer: I listen to quite a bit of Dave Ramsey. There have been a number of callers to his show that have mentioned that their creditors (usually after a period of non-payment) has withdrawn funds from their bank accounts without their consent.

        • Swearengen says:


          Um, then people should pay their bills.

          People’s normal U.S. mail can be taken easier than hacking electronic transactions, so I don’t think fear of hacking electronic transactions is a reasonable reason not to use online transactions.

          • shepd says:


            If you want to steal a cheque not made out to you I suppose yes, you’ll annoy me and I’ll have to send another one. I might end up late on the payment, once.

            Financially, I *might* be out the cancellation fee on the cheque, if I actually care to do it. But I know I won’t be out the money, unless you manage to cash it for me, in which case you’ve simply paid the bill anyways and the only thing left is to call the company billing me to straighten out the weird accounting that would go on as a result of that.

            You could, of course, wash the cheque and forge my signature. I can then contest that and the bank will provide me my hard evidence that you did that (the original cheque, or at least a high resolution scan of it). The transaction can then be reversed. Furthermore, the cheques I use create a carbonless copy, so your washed cheque will look distinctly different, again proving my case.

            If you hack my online bank account, you can take my money and put it in your account, no middleman involved. *That* is a much bigger problem, since depending on how the hack is done, few to no traces may be left, and I have no evidence to prove the money was stolen.

            I don’t mind making payments at my bank’s ABM, since if there’s a skimmer in there to steal from my account, it would either have to be an inside job, or there’s video evidence of it (all the ABMs I’ve used at banks have complex CCTV systems).

            I’ve used ABMs elsewhere, yes, and that certainly does present a risk, same with debit payments. It’s a risk I’m presently willing to take, although I hope the smartchips on the cards actually are decent enough to thwart that.

            I am, however, using online banking for a little while, but that’s another story and will end in a few months.

            Of course, I’m crazy… My last landlord sucked so badly, I paid by nothing but money order so they couldn’t get my routing information (bet they wish they had it, I told them to suck a lemon when they tried to bill me for my AC since it was included in the rent, not a surcharge). My present one kind of sucks, but not bad enough for me to avoid them to that extent.

            Everything I do leaves a paper trail and that’s the way I like it. You can contest things in court with good solid paper evidence. You can’t do that when your account gets hacked.

            I haven’t even mentioned the joy people doing all their transactions electronically with have if the bank ever loses their payment database history and you need to prove to someone you paid them. With what I do, I have the paper that shows “Yes, I paid you. Now you prove to me that I’m the one lying. Good luck.”

            • ameyer says:

              @shepd: “Financially, I *might* be out the cancellation fee on the cheque, if I actually care to do it. But I know I won’t be out the money, unless you manage to cash it for me, in which case you’ve simply paid the bill anyways and the only thing left is to call the company billing me to straighten out the weird accounting that would go on as a result of that.”
              My mom got her debit card stolen right before Christmas last year.
              When she went to file a police report the day after Christmas, there was someone who was there to file a police report, there was someone there filing a police report because someone stole their account number and managed to get $1400 out of their checking account (which apparently had way under $1400 in it and several outstanding checks)
              I’m not sure exactly how that situation ended up, but you could be out all the money in your account and then some if someone steals a check.

              • shepd says:


                I suppose the difference is, with proof that the money was taken fraudulently (and, with forged signatures, you’ve got the proof) you will eventually win that money back.

                Just *try* to prove it wasn’t *you* behind those mouseclicks transferring the money out of your account.

                As, for the above, just because the article is old doesn’t mean hackers haven’t found ways to get into accounts. One word: Phishing. Sure, you think you’re immune, you never enter you info anywhere you shouldn’t. I bet half of the people who get phished said that before it happened to them, too.

                • ameyer says:

                  @shepd: Except it doesn’t necessarily require a signature.
                  I bet that (WARNING: DON’T ACTUALLY DO THIS)if you gave a scammer your bank account number, the scammer could get quite a bit of money out without actually having to sign anything.

    • Yokai Monsters Spook Warfare says:

      @Trencher93: I don’t know if it differs from state to state, or what, but I thought that, legally, a bill had to mailed to you 25 days before the due date. I had a similar problem with our electrical company ( we didn’t like to use online payments because they charged a fee ) a couple years ago.

    • ohiomensch says:

      @Trencher93: What I would really like to see is someone take the whole FICO system down. The CC companies use tricks like these to manipulate your score so that they can charge you even higher rates. My pet peeve is balance chasing. Say you have 30% usage of your available credit, Amex or BofA get nervous so they lower your credit limit to within $100 of your balance, taking you from 30% usage to 95% usage, then your other cards see this as some sort of sign and do the same and within 3 months your cards are all “maxed out”. Suddenly, because you are such a bad person with your credit, this gives the CC co.’s impetus to up your interest rate. When you can’t afford to pay the higher payment, everyone says you are a deadbeat because you were stupid enough to carry a balance in the first place.

  6. Boogaloo2 says:

    I worry that I might have too much available credit too (don’t know my FICO score), but I’m afraid to close one of my accounts b/c it can hurt your score.

    Can you ask your CC company to reduce your available balance? Will they do that if you’re not using the card?

    • chrisjames says:

      @Boogaloo2: Do you mean reduce your available credit? Because you probably can.

      When I called to increase my limit a few months ago, they told me there are a couple simple rules:

      1) You can request a credit limit increase anytime, but not within three months of a previous increase request.

      2) You can request a credit limit decrease anytime, no matter any previous requests to increase or decrease.

      It’s a strange system, it seems. They practically threw money at me when I requested an increase. It went from 5000 to 12500; way too much! They told me they are forced to increase by the offered amount (and they probably do the increase anyway once a request is made), but they could, at the same time, register a credit decrease to put it at a reasonable level.

      • Boogaloo2 says:

        @chrisjames: Oops, yes, I meant available CREDIT, not balance.

        Good to know! I have 3 cards & they all seem to keep throwing more credit at me, unrequested.

    • jlayman920 says:

      @Boogaloo2: First, find out your FICO immediately. In this day and age there is no reason not to. Second, your cc issuer will decrease your credit line at your request. If you want it stay at the lower limit that you set, ask them to cap it at that amount. Otherwise every time it is automatically reviewed after X number of months and your credit remains good, the system will just raise your limit again. If you cap it, it will remain at the limit you set.

  7. supercereal says:

    At the same time, decreasing your credit limit could hurt you too, depending on how much you use month-to-month. Using $500 of a $500 limit shouts “I buy as much on credit as I possibly can” to the CC companies. Average balance versus limit is, I believe, just as important a factor.

  8. psyop63b says:

    So, it’s true? Income has NOTHING to do with your FICO score?

    • jlayman920 says:

      @psyop63b: It does to a degree in relation to how much debt you are carrying aka debt burden. For example, someone who makes 20K per year and carries 2k in debt would be the equivalent to someone who make 100k per year and carries 10k in debt. The thing your income is used for most of all is to set your credit limit. In general you aren’t going to see someone who makes 20k per year issued a card with a 15k credit limit and you won’t see someone who makes 100k per year issued a card with a 1K limit (unless they have debt up the wazoo)

      • pgaulrapp says:

        @jlayman920: While a debt to income ratio is used to set a limit with the company you’re applying for credit with, income is not used to calculate your FICO score.

  9. illtron says:

    Seriously, Consumerist, you need to ditch the ugly ass style changes from last week and put in some new changes to start nesting these comments. The gray line that shows which is a top-level comment just doesn’t cut it. It makes it almost impossible to follow a good discussion.

  10. econobiker says:

    This here USA bank system doesn’t work nicely like your UK based bank system. Usually the burden of prooving is left for the innocent victim to do and the so-called “customer service” people usually don’t give a flip about it. And the “cancellation fee” on the check is nothing if they bust the account number out on fake checks which drain your account or multiple bounced checks and usually a stupid bank which presents the largest first so you know that means alot of grief…

    As for the nice bank people helping proove your signature was forged – yeah right in the USA they make you spend the time prooving it while the bank has taken your money – which you may need currently for bills.

    All the stuff you mentions requires the victim to bend over backwards (here in the USA) to proove fraud or misuse- and who has that time to take off of work to argue with the banks?

  11. thebluepill says:

    Seems to me that Keeping open multiple cards, opening new accounts, keeping old, un-used/higher interest accounts open and a mix of loans open are all RISKY behaviours!

    Yet, the FICO encourages these practices?