credit cards

Uncovering hidden credit scores

Consumer advice on scores 
q_v2.gifWhat should consumers take away from knowing that these scores exist? Can you do anything to boost your scores?

a_v2.gifThey should sleep well at night knowing that there's not a darn thing they can do about it. Honestly, when you think of "score," we're all so FICO-programmed that we think 300 to 850. We think pay your bills on time, we think keep your balances low, we think don't overshop. Well, the problem is those are counterintuitive to some of the other models.

Think of what makes you a revenue-generating bank card customer: high balances, close to the limit, paying late periodically to generate fee income. Well, that's a great revenue score but a horrible risk score.

You can't just do something and think that you're optimizing every single one of your scores, because the rules are set in opposition in so many places. What I tell people is, stop peeling back the onion. What you're going to find is essentially a never-ending list of scoring models that you're never going to learn anything about because lenders aren't going to tell you about them because they don't have to -- there's no law that says they have to disclose these scores to you. That's why you can't get a free FICO score anywhere -- you buy it. The fact that it doesn't apply to credit scores; it just applies to the data.

I can tell you this: A low-risk consumer doesn't have to worry about a very large percentage of those scoring models. The only thing that you really have to worry about is if a lender considers you to be either not terribly profitable or likely to attrite from one issuer to another -- then they may start doing something that's not necessarily consumer-friendly, like close your account down, or lower your limit. In that case, it's always good to be prepared and have a variety of credit cards at your disposal so that you have options and you can be nimble and just kind of switch usage from one to the other without really going through any of the pains of opening the new account, hoping your credit limit is good enough so you can actually use the card. And that's why I always tell people, there's a time to reap and a time to sow.

If you've got fantastic credit scores and only one credit card, that's not necessarily a very good thing. You should have six or seven credit cards all with very high limits, most of them with a zero balance, just so you have options. When times do get tough, you already have these credit cards and access to capital in place. It's like having a HELOC that you don't use. Assuming your bank hasn't suspended it, it's fantastic access to capital, and the fee for having it and not using it has got to be about $50 a year. It's just a nominal charge to have access to that kind of money. Really it's the same thing. You have six or seven credit cards open, maybe $100,000 of available credit, and you don't have to use it unless you need it.

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