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The credit score scale

Fun with Numbers
Curious. But the big question is: Wouldn't it be easier to just start at zero?

| By Greg Fisher

Somebody, please, help these experts. The consumer can't take much more expertise and help.

What is the FICO credit score scale?

The FICO credit score scale is 300 to 850. So, the range is 550 (850 minus 300).

And, here come conflicting statements from the FICO credit score company, itself. On July 22, 1999, at the Federal Trade Commission's "Public Forum : The Consumer and Credit Scoring" a Fair Isaac representative entered the following into the records:

Well, there are many different credit scoring systems. In the Fair, Isaac credit bureau systems, which is probably what you've got in mind, the range is from somewhere in the low 300's to something close to 900. Again, you don't see many 900's. You don't see many 325's.

Today, according to Fair Isaac, you don't see any 900s.

Here's Fair Isaac, again, on June 22, 2000 in an online chat "Color of Money Live With Michelle Singletary - Credit Scoring with Craig Watts of Fair, Isaac and Company, Inc.":

FICO scores range from the 300s to the 900s, with scores at either end being very rare.

Not an insignificant event. That's when we found out that "close to 900" meant over 900, too. Imagine the time wasted by the 850s who thought they could get to 900. And these have to be some of the smartest people in America, whiling away their hours worrying about a ghost when they should have been solving big problems, creating a better world.

Consumers' understanding of credit scores

Fair Isaac loves statistics. It's a statistics company, so there's nothing weird about that. Here's one: "49% do not understand that credit scores measure credit risk."

But the company's 2004 booklet "Understanding Your Credit Score" states, "FICO scores range from about 300 to 850."

About 300? Is it 300 or not? This isn't just some ranting boob with a web site going off half-cocked, this is the company that created the score.

No wonder 49% don't get it.

The FICO score distribution chart doesn't list an 800-850 category. It's "800+." And that segment is more crowded than it was before. Now, 13% have scores of 800 or more, up from 11%. You're not so special, anymore.

The FICO score medallion

So, maybe things in the fancy secret algorithm changed. Or, maybe they just decided to lop off the tails of the distribution to stop the madness. Fair Isaac's public response (or, perhaps, the new-and-improved, Fair Isaac ad agency's response) to all this was to create an icon that says it, once and for all: "300-850."

It looks like a cross between a gold embossed foil seal on your diploma, a foot race medal, and the Good Housekeeping Seal.

300 to 850? In this system of winners and losers, why can't you get a score higher than 850? What if everybody gets an 850? Does that mean there is almost no risk? Do they bring back the 900s? Will the American consumer become the best investment in the world, dragging rates to even lower all-time lows?

Proclamations of the FICO score scale

At the risk of creating more confusion, these quotes are submitted for your amusement. This stuff is dry enough.

Also, see