What Is FICO 9?
FICO 9 is a credit scoring model introduced by FICO (formerly the Fair Isaac Corporation) to lenders in 2014 and consumers in 2016. FICO 9 differs from previous versions of the FICO credit score primarily in its treatment of medical and other collection accounts. Though the FICO 9 credit score is accessible to both lenders and consumers, as of the end of 2020, it still isn’t as widely used as FICO 8.
- FICO 9 is an updated FICO credit scoring model that was introduced to lenders in 2014 and consumers in 2016.
- Key changes in FICO 9 center on how collection accounts, paid and unpaid, factor into your credit score calculations.
- Another change is that renters can now use rent payments to build credit history under the FICO 9 model.
- FICO 9 doesn’t replace other credit score models, such as FICO 8, which lenders can still use to make credit approval decisions.
Understanding FICO 9
FICO 9 included a number of changes related to the handling of collection accounts in credit score calculations. Specifically, FICO 9 included these changes:
- Collection accounts that are marked as “paid In full” on a consumer’s credit report are disregarded in credit score calculations.
- Unpaid medical collection accounts are weighted differently for credit score calculations versus unpaid nonmedical collections.
Those changes were made in part due to FICO research, which found that unpaid medical bills were a less likely indicator of credit risk compared to other types of unpaid bills. FICO opted to make changes to its credit scoring model with FICO 9 in an attempt to make scoring more accurate and predictive.
There’s also a third change to credit scoring with FICO 9. Rental history can now be factored into these credit scores. However, there’s a catch. Landlords have to report rental payment history to one or all of the top three credit bureaus for it to be included in FICO 9 credit scores, but there is no legal requirement for them to do so.
Prior to this change, rental history wasn’t factored into FICO credit scores at all. This change with FICO 9 could be helpful to people with thin credit files who are just beginning to establish and build credit. Having a positive rental payment history reported to the credit bureaus could work in their favor because payment history accounts for 35% of FICO credit scores.
Because landlords aren’t required to report rental payment history, renters should make a point of asking their landlord to report rent payments to at least one of the credit bureaus, so it can be factored into FICO 9 credit score calculations.
How to Access FICO 9 Credit Scores
Consumers can purchase their scores directly from FICO. Alternatively, it may be possible to get free access to a FICO 9 credit score if it’s offered by your credit card company. Many banks and credit card companies now offer free credit scores to customers, though you’ll need to check to determine if it’s the FICO 9 score, a different FICO version, or a non-FICO credit score, such as the VantageScore.
It’s also important to keep in mind that FICO 9 scores may not be used by every lender if you’re applying for credit cards, loans, or other lines of credit. Many lenders still rely on the previous FICO 8 credit scoring model for credit approvals. Mortgage lenders may use entirely different versions, such as FICO 2, FICO 4, or FICO 5. Car loan issuers can use the same versions or FICO 8.
What FICO 9 Credit Scores Tell Lenders
In general, credit scores tell lenders and banks how much of a credit risk someone is based on their credit history. Specifically, FICO scores look at five different weighted factors:
- Payment history (35%)
- Amounts owed (30%)
- Length of credit history (15%)
- Credit mix (10%)
- New credit (10%)
Of the five, payment history carries the most weight. Making payments on time each month for credit cards, loans, and other bills can help establish a positive history and lead to a better FICO score. Paying late, on the other hand, can be damaging to your score.
FICO scores also view collection accounts in a negative light. A collection account means that your account has gone unpaid for an extended period of time and the original creditor has either assigned or sold the debt to a collection agency. Before FICO 9 was introduced, collection accounts were treated equally for credit scoring purposes. Under FICO 9, the impacts of collection accounts have changed. If you have collection accounts that are marked as paid, those will not carry the same negative weight for credit scoring with FICO 9 as they do with FICO 8 or other credit score versions.
If you pay a collection account in full, get written proof from the debt collector showing its paid status, then review your credit reports to make sure the account is correctly reported as paid in full.
Similarly, unpaid doctor bills won’t count against you as much as other types of unpaid bills, such as credit cards, student loans, car loans, or mortgage payments will. That’s a good thing because approximately one-third of Americans have some type of medical debt, according to a 2020 survey from the global financial wellness platform Salary Finance. Of those people, 54% said they had defaulted on a medical debt at least once.
Under the FICO 9 credit scoring rules, people who find themselves with mounting medical bills they’re unable to pay may be at less of a disadvantage in terms of credit score impacts. That may be a good thing for the near and long term for people who may have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to job loss, illness, or both.
Remember that unpaid collection accounts can remain on your credit score for up to seven years. Paying those accounts in full, if possible, could help to avoid long-term damage to your credit score.
How to Improve FICO 9 Credit Scores
Improving FICO credit scores begins with understanding how those scores are calculated and what things help or hurt your credit rating. With FICO 9 credit scores, the basic rules still apply:
- Pay bills on time each month
- Keep credit card balances as low as possible
- Refrain from applying for new credit accounts unless it’s absolutely necessary
- Keep older credit accounts open
- Use both revolving and installment credit (i.e., credit cards, lines of credit, loans)
There are a couple of additional best practices to keep in mind to promote a healthy FICO 9 score. First, if you have outstanding collection accounts on your credit reports, consider paying them in full. Having those accounts show up as paid can remove them from your credit score calculation altogether under the FICO 9 rules.
Next, if you’re finding it difficult to pay all of your bills, you may need to prioritize the ones that are going to have the most negative impact on your credit score. Having a credit card go into collections, for example, trumps having a medical bill in collections for FICO 9. So if you’re trying to juggle which bills to pay, consider first paying the ones that are most likely to hurt your score if left unpaid.