Tuesday, June 30, 2009

FICO Scores Show Flaws as U.S. Banks Cut Consumer Credit Lines

The FICO score formula has long been the choice of most US lenders, but some reports show the decline in actual loans may be making these scores somewhat flawed, which is quickly becoming a problem. Earlier today Bloomberg.com posted a great release about a woman experiencing these flaws, and deconstructed some of the reasons why.

“When Sharii Rey, a paralegal in Portland, Oregon, had her credit limit reduced by JPMorgan Chase & Co. earlier this month, she said it would hurt her 760 credit score. That’s not the bank’s problem, she was told. It’s FICO’s.”

After Rey’s $42,500 credit line was cut to $12,000, her debt relative to available funds almost quadrupled. This so- called utilization rate is a large component of the FICO formula and a higher ratio can lower a score. Rey, 62, is concerned a new FICO score will squash her ability to borrow.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, says the FICO formula, the most widely used by U.S. lenders, has flaws as banks decrease loans to consumers, regardless of individual risk profiles. At least 30 million Americans had their credit limits reduced arbitrarily during the second half of 2008, FICO estimates. In the first quarter, New York-based JPMorgan and Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina, slashed $320 billion from credit lines, according to a report by former Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Meredith Whitney.

“Reductions to a consumer’s line of credit based upon the lending institutions’ overall appetite for risk has little or no bearing on a consumer’s own risk of default,” said Gutierrez, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.

An individual’s FICO score is based on factors that aren’t directly related to JPMorgan’s decision to lower a credit limit, said Paul Hartwick, a spokesman for the biggest U.S. bank by market value.

Continue reading this story, here.

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