Friday, November 30, 2012

Alternative Credit Scores

Over 70 million adults in the U.S. do not have a credit score or have a very limited credit history. Individuals and families living with limited credit files are forced to take advantage of alternative financial sources to cash their checks or get temporary short term loans aka Pay Day Loans. Users of alternative financial sources generally pay very high costs in relation to the usual transactions you might perform at your credit union. Cashing a paycheck could cost $3 - $15. A two week $200 payday loan could cost as much as $45 if paid on time. If the loan cannot be paid off right away, it has to be renewed. In California, that means the loan principle and interest has to be paid and a new loan created. How many times will a person have to pay $45 to maintain and renew the loan until they can afford to pay it off completely?

Several companies have created alternative credit scoring products based on the analysis of non-traditional data, including rental and bill payment history, insurance payments, debit-card use and public records. They are trying to use this data to predict the payment history of people who don’t have access to traditional credit products that can be tracked through a FICO score.

That is basically what a credit reporting bureau does for people with their credit. It reports the usage of the various forms of credit a person has and tracks the payments made and balances carried. Through a computer algorithm it creates a number that can predict, with fair certainty, the future payment history of an applicant. Those with FICO scores over 740 are more likely to make their payments on time and manage their outstanding balances better than someone with a score of less than 740.

Why do some people want to use alternative credit data? There is a profit motive as vendors can sell more products and services if there is a universe of more qualified buyers. It could also help families struggling with traditional credit by showing their propensity to pay their rent, utility bills, auto insurance, and other regular payments. By using alternative data, lenders stand to reach a large group of potential borrowers about whom they currently have little or no information. For these consumers, alternative credit scores strengthen lenders’ ability to:
-         Reliably rank order risk;
-         Efficiently evaluate applicants for credit or design offers for credit;
-         Increase approval rates while controlling for acceptable levels of risk

Meriwest works exclusively with Experian Credit Bureau. Experian offers various forms of credit reports. We use three specifically:

-         For all auto lending, direct lending to our members and through the Credit Union Direct Lending (CUDL) Network we use the FICO Auto 2 score. This is provided by Experian, and is a variation of the basic FICO score – more heavily weighted to the existence and performance on previous auto loans compared to the traditional FICO score.  This is similar to the “Auto Industry Option Scores” listed below.
-         For our other consumer loans, we use a custom score from Experian called a “Fast Start” score.  It is based on credit and personal characteristics such as their time on the job, how long they have been a member, and other data.
-         We also look at the Experian BK (Bankruptcy) score.  This is a predictor of the applicants likelihood of filing (or needing to file) bankruptcy, and is used as a risk measurement in our analysis.

We don’t use alternative scores, but do tend to look at our borrowers differently than a traditional bank. In a traditional commercial bank, credit score lending is King. If they are looking for a FICO score of 740 or above and that’s where you score, your application has a preliminary approval pending review of debt and income. If your FICO Score comes in less than 740, your application will be declined due to credit. They will take no further action on your behalf outside of sending you the decline letter.

Credit unions, in general, take a more holistic view of their borrowers. Sure, the FICO score is an important part of the loan qualification. Credit Unions would like to see a 740 FICO Score just like the big banks. But if you miss the score by this much (thumb and forefinger showing an inch), you may still qualify for a loan at a credit union. Why? They look at the whole person, not just their credit score. They look at how long you have been employed in the same business or the same employer. How long have you lived in the area? Or at the same home? How long have you been a member of the Credit Union? Have you borrowed from them before? All of these questions go into making the credit decisions. I am not saying that everyone with a less than 740 FICO Score gets a loan. But, if someone misses the target score by ten or twenty points, it is not the end of the loan. Credit Unions can take these questions into consideration and possibly make the loan for them at a slightly higher rate. This is called, Risk Based Pricing. If there is increased risk in lending to someone, say a 720 vs. a 740 FICO Score, we can price our interest rate a little higher accordingly to offset the risk.

Here is a run down of the more common credit scores and alternatives to credit scores:

FICO Score: Created by the Fair Isaac Corporation, FICO is the best-known credit scoring system in the United States. It is a way of measuring an individual's creditworthiness. A FICO score is a quantification of a variety of factors in an individual's background, including a history of default, the current amount of debt, and the length of time that the individual has made purchases on credit. A FICO score ranges between 300 and 850. The higher the score, the more likely that individual will pay their bills in a timely manner.

Vantage Score: A consumer credit rating product developed by three credit rating agencies - Equifax, TransUnion and Experian - as an alternative to the FICO Score. VantageScore uses a different rating scale (501 to 990) than FICO (300 to 850), and is branded as a score that provides lending institutions and banks information related to sub-prime financing. The score is calculated through a weighted average of a consumer's available credit, recent credit, payment history, credit utilization, depth of credit and credit balances.

Auto Industry Option Scores: Auto lenders are unlike other kinds of creditors. Many other creditors look at the entire credit picture to make a decision. However, some auto lenders base their decision solely on how previous auto loans were managed. So, even if your credit scores are bad, if you never missed a car or truck payment or sent one in late, your Auto Industry scores will most likely be higher than the standard FICO scores.

Veritas (by Digital Risk): Most recent alternative; used for home mortgage credit analysis. It Integrates borrower credit characteristics with property and local real estate market data along with proprietary behavioral prediction models. 

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Our next Credit Myths workshop is this Wednesday the 5th of December
Credit Myths and Repair
6:30pm    Wednesday    December 5th 
Meriwest Credit Union Main Office
5615 Chesbro Ave, San Jose CA 95123
Click here to RSVP!

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