For Steve Jones, 44, getting enough credit to run his business had always been a frustrating experience. “I’ve dealt with some of the largest banks in the country,” says Jones, president of National Communications Link Network 20, an emergency dispatch contracting agency based in Pleasanton, California. “Sometimes it took over a year to get a small, secured line of credit, a year in which I literally spent days going to banks and making presentations.”
Jones’ last experience was a bit different. “I called Wells Fargo Bank and provided information by phone,” he says, explaining that he needed extra cash for his expanding business. “Within a week my loan was approved; within two weeks we had a $100,000 unsecured line of credit at a favorable interest rate.”
What made the difference this time around? Credit scoring, the process of putting a numerical grade on an applicant’s creditworthiness. “Credit reviewing models enable us to make small loans economically,” says Mike James, an executive vice president at Wells Fargo in San Francisco. “Decision-making time is much shorter, so we can grant credit more rapidly.”
Credit scoring is by no means limited to one bank’s small business loan department. Today, whenever you apply for a credit card, an auto loan, or a home mortgage, you’re likely to be scored. The same is true when you buy auto or homeowner’s insurance. Credit scoring not only helps determine whether you’ll be accepted or rejected but also the interest rate you’ll pay. The better your score, the lower your expenses will be.
The good news is that credit scoring is objective. Unlike lending officers, credit scores don’t have “a bad day” or judge applicants by the way they look. While Jones believes he encountered racism in prior face-to-face attempts to get credit, he says that wasn’t the case with his latest request.
The bad news is also that credit scoring is objective. If you’ve missed payments, defaulted on loans or declared bankruptcy, that data will be incorporated into your score, dragging it down. The worse your score, the lower your chances of winning credit approval, no matter how much personal charm you exert. Therefore, it’s vital that you know the score about credit scoring and take steps to improve your grade.
CREDIT SCORING 101
Credit scoring is a process designed to predict the future: whether or not you’ll live up to the obligations you incur today. When you make a loan application, the lender will request a credit bureau report showing your prior history (see “Cleaning Up Your Credit,” July 1998). The report may be loaded with information, positive and/or negative. How can the lender evaluate that data and make a fair judgment of the likelihood you’ll pay your debts?
“Based on past experience, we’ve determined the most powerful indicators of future risk,” says Sally Taylor-Shoff, director of credit bureau risk products for Fair, Isaac & Co., the San Rafael, California, firm that pioneered credit scoring. “We’ve developed models that weigh the data and produce a score that indicates risk level. Lenders can then