From time to time I like to write mythbuster pieces in hopes that I’ll debunk fairly common misconceptions and misunderstandings related to consumer credit. I keep a running list of them, and when I hit a half dozen or so, I write an article clearing them up. Well, I hit a half dozen last week. Here goes;
Myth #1: FICO, the company, calculates your FICO scores
In order for your FICO score, or any of your credit scores, to be calculated two things have to be married; your credit report and a scoring model. FICO, the company, does not maintain your credit reports. As such, FICO cannot calculate your FICO scores. The FICO scoring software is installed at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This gives the credit reporting agencies the two things needed to calculate a FICO score. That means your FICO scores are calculated and delivered to lenders by the credit bureaus.
Myth #2: The credit bureaus grant or deny credit applications
Believe it or not, this is a pretty common myth. It’s so common that Federal law requires lenders who have denied your credit application to communicate with you that the credit bureaus had nothing to do with their decision. The credit bureaus simply provide lenders with your credit reports and credit scores. That’s where their involvement with the loan approval (or denial) process ends. If you’ve been denied, it was the lender that denied you. You can plug FICO into this myth as well, as they also have nothing to do with the approval or denial process.
Myth #3: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are credit rating agencies
These companies are legally defined as “Consumer Reporting Agencies” and more commonly referred to as credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies. Credit rating agencies are companies like Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s or Fitch Ratings. They’re the guys who assign letter grades to certain types of debt obligations. Sometimes, FICO gets lumped in with the credit bureaus and the incorrect designation of a credit rating agency.
Myth #4: Credit reports and credit scores are the same thing
This myth is so prevalent that it has lead to the most common misunderstanding relative to credit scores, which is that they’re used for employment screening. Think of credit reports as a car and credit scores as the stereo upgrade that doesn’t come standard with the car. A credit score is a product sold along with credit reports, just not to employers. The interchangeable use of the terms is improper.
Myth #5: FICO is a credit reporting agency
FICO is a lot of things, but none of those things is a credit reporting agency. The credit reporting agencies gather, maintain, and sell credit-related information to lenders, insurance companies, consumers and other parties. FICO does not have a credit file database. They’re an analytics company.
Myth #6: A charge card and a credit card are the same thing
The only thing similar between charge cards and credit cards is that they’re both made of plastic and you can buy stuff with them. A credit card allows you to roll or “revolve” a portion of your existing balance to the next month, a process that will result in the assessment of interest. A charge card is a “pay in full” product, in that you have to pay off the balance, in full, every month.
Charge cards almost always have annual fees, which help the issuer to make money in the absence of interest. Credit cards generally rely on interest and fees for their financial contribution to the issuer’s bottom line. Charge cards are not nearly as common as credit cards but they’re a pretty decent option if you want the convenience of plastic without the possibility of getting deep into debt.
John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit.