What Realtors need to know about credit scores

Know which scores mortgage lenders depend on to fund loans

Realtors often first direct their clients to get approved for a loan amount through their favorite lender. However, many of these clients feel betrayed, cheated and at times embarrassed to learn that the credit scores they counted on, in some cases paid for or obtained for free are not used by mortgage lenders.

Informed consumers considering a home purchase today want to do the right thing and plan ahead. Many do not seek immediate professional guidance from a Realtor or a mortgage loan officer. Instead, they hunt for hours online, looking at numerous websites for available homes for sale. They also consult websites to find the best interest rate and terms for future monthly mortgage payments.

Vault image via Shutterstock.
Vault image via Shutterstock.

When shopping for a good mortgage interest rate, consumers also need to know their credit score, and utilize an online mortgage calculator to compute future monthly mortgage payments. The client might Google “credit score” and find a site that offers a free credit score. They instantly accept the provider’s terms and conditions to get a free credit score. Terrific! Unaware that in exchange they just received a meaningless credit score that lenders never use. They also handed over their Non-Public Personal Information (NPPI) to that credit score provider for life.

Before we go any further, let’s look at available credit scoring products available to consumers today:

  • FICO credit score from Fair Isaac Corporation/myfico.com, range 300 to 850
  • Plus Score from Experian, range 320 to 830
  • Trans Risk Score from TransUnion, range 300 to 850
  • Equifax Credit Score from Equifax, range 300 to 850
  • Vantage Score from all three bureaus, two ranges, 300 to 850 and 501-990

In 1958, Bill Fair and Earl Isaac, a mathematician and engineer, formed a company in San Rafael, California. They created tools to help risk managers make a better decision when taking financial risk. Today, 90 percent of all lenders use the FICO score, first created in 1989 by Fair Isaac, and it’s the only score Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Agency and Veterans Affairs will accept in underwriting loans they guarantee.

In 2004, Experian and TransUnion created their own credit scores, the Plus Score and the Trans Risk Score, followed by the Equifax Credit Score from Equifax. These scores are offered to consumers by the three credit bureaus for a fee, or for free with the purchase of a credit report, identity protection plan or credit monitoring service. To hide the uselessness of these scores, the credit bureaus continue to use embedded disclosures in mysterious places on their websites, revealing that their credit scores are consumer scores for educational purposes and are not used by lenders. Consider this comparison: Would you buy a watch that gives the approximate time of day?

In 2006, the three credit bureaus teamed up and created one new score, called the Vantage score, to compete with the FICO score. Eight years later and with little success, the three bureaus have failed to get their score endorsed by many major lenders.

It’s important to recognize that credit scores and credit reports are two different products. A credit report is made up of information about our credit accounts, repayment history and public records. A credit score is another product that sums up consumers’ credit risk to a lender based on a snapshot of our data at the three credit bureaus at a specific point in time.

Furthermore, the three credit bureaus continue to recruit major financial institutions, professional organizations, comparison sites, personal finance businesses, and clubs such as Costco, AAA, Sam’s Club and many others to promote these consumer scores and related products. These countless affiliates earn hefty commissions.

It’s a big business. They market to consumers with one of the bureaus’ scores and a summary of the credit report for free, followed by weekly emails with discounted offers to upgrade for a detailed credit report, monthly monitoring service, identity protection plan and many other products and services, generally for a monthly fee.

Also, we have data brokers who joined the race of the free credit score mania with one clear purpose: data mining. They simply want to be the first at the outset of any of your clients’ moves to offer a product or a service.

These businesses recognize the value of a small investment to gain immeasurable returns. So, they buy these second-rate credit scores in bulk from the three bureaus, and then offer consumers a no strings attached free score, with no credit card information required.

In exchange, they collect, store, process and earn the right to share, swap and sell in whole or in part a new valuable product they just created: a profile supplied by the consumer.

One of these brokers is Credit Karma Inc., which this year agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it failed to take adequate precautions to protect the sensitive personal information of consumers using its mobile app. By disabling SSL certificate verification, the FTC said, Credit Karma made users’ credit card information and Social Security numbers vulnerable to interception by third parties.

Gaining access to one’s own credit report and credit score prior to loan approval with no strings attached could be helpful, and at all times beneficial. With little effort, inaccuracy of information can be instantly corrected at the credit bureau level, and with a few simple steps, credit scores could be enhanced. For example, paying down revolving account balances before a creditor’s statement-ending date (the creditor later updates account information with the credit bureaus), thus reducing revolving account balances at a particular point in time, will positively add more points to a score. It’s priceless.

Your clients have a legal right to access their annual credit report at no charge once a year from annualcreditreport.com, a site sponsored by the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

The credit bureaus provide this report in multiple formats, make it difficult and confusing to read, and discourage consumers from asking for it every year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau must compel the three credit bureaus to create a uniform, identical, easy-to-read and simple-to-understand annual free credit report.

When on the website, the consumer is bombarded with messages to buy a score — from one of the bureaus, of course. The report should also be free of any offers of the bureaus’ products and services. I created a petition about it and received modest support here: http://tinyurl.com/7htze5s.

If you want to learn more about a consumer’s credit score that is actually used by mortgage lenders, myfico.com is a great website to visit. For $19.95 per bureau, consumers can purchase a customized credit report with a genuine FICO score. A consumer may order his own score a hundred times a day, and it will have no impact on the consumer’s score.

Additional websites to visit: the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (cfpb.gov) for true answers to questions about any financial concepts, financial products, dispute and complaint submissions, and much more.

We all know today’s homebuyer has instant access to many answers. To be relevant in today’s market, real estate professionals need to know the absolute correct response to basic credit questions. It’s important.

Nabil Captan is a nationally recognized credit scoring expert, educator, author and producer. As founder and president of Captan & Company, he is dedicated to revolutionizing financial education and improving financial literacy.


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