| By Greg Fisher
The national median and mean average FICO credit scores are secret.
Contractual agreements between two of the consumer reporting agencies and scoring company FICO prohibit FICO from disclosing the average credit score numbers. FICO says that the median Equifax FICO is about 712.
For years, FICO (the company) stated that the median FICO (the score) was 723. But that fundamental statstic no longer exists on the myFICO.com website. Earlier this month, FICO spokesman Craig Watts said that the missing score "is another example of the quirky environment that FICO works in."
FICO knows the median and mean average credit score numbers, but cannot publish them. Watts explains: "Our scoring analysts are aware of the national median score and the national average score because of their work with large samples of consumer credit data which each CRA occasionally sends us so we can redevelop (update) our scoring models housed at that CRA. However our agreements with two of the CRAs restrict our use of their samples to model redevelopment work."
On January 9, 2009, TIME magazine reported that the credit score company "hasn't gone back to recalculate the average recently." The following week, one of the most significant events in credit scoring in the last 7 years occurred: FICO and Experian failed to reach an agreement to continue providing Experian FICO scores to consumers. By February of that year, that leg of the score tripod was gone. Now, the national median benchmark is is AWOL, too.
FICO bemoans, "We are surprised that, particularly in a time of tremendous economic uncertainty, Experian would deny American consumers the ability to obtain their FICO scores - the score most used by lenders - calculated on Experian's data."
Experian complains, "By not negotiating in good faith and knowingly insisting on unreasonable demands, Fair Isaac [FICO] is ultimately responsible for Experian not providing its data to myFICO.com."
Ten years ago, before any FICO score was available to consumers, this statement by FICO appeared on the website of the Washington Post: "The terms of our contract with the credit-reporting agencies prevent either of us from disclosing scores without the other's permission." Experian was, in 2003, the last of the big three consumer reporting agencies to allow access to its FICO score, and the first to exit.
While consumers go without, disclosure is not the only subject of animosity between Experian and FICO. A disagreement over an idea named VantageScore—a cooperative effort by the three national consumer reporting agencies (sans FICO (the company))—was at the center of a lawsuit by FICO.
Loss of the national median FICO score is a backward step in the continuum of the fight over disclosure of credit scores that began in the 1990s. FICO credit scores are ubiquitous, used in 75 percent of mortgage loan originations, and by 90 of the top 100 lenders according to recent congressional testimony (2:14) by a FICO official.
Pending national legislation would bring back the Experian FICO in a limited manner. Incorrigible as usual, Experian was recently blasted by members of Congress and, in an extraordinary action by a federal agency, even lampooned by the Federal Trade Commission over its now defunct melodious FreeCreditReport.com marketing campaign. Experian tweets, "Poll: Do you know your credit score?" The correct answer is: No. You and FICO won't let me have it.
While the text of the previous stated median cannot be found on myFICO.com (FICO's credit score delivery vehicle), a ghost remains: A nostalgic graphic on the home page displaying a sample report with a score of 723.