What Is a FICO Score?

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A FICO score is the branded version of credit score most widely used by the nation's largest financial institutions to make credit and loan approval decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • Your FICO score is a measure that lenders use to evaluate your creditworthiness.
  • Timely payment of bills and low debt use are important factors.
  • A low FICO score will make it harder to get good loan rates.
  • You have the right to obtain a free copy of your FICO score every year.

Definition and Example of a FICO Score

If you're looking into your credit report or trying to get approved for a loan or credit card, you're bound to come across your FICO score, which is the most widely used branded credit score. There are 27 million FICO scores sold each day, and they're used to make 90% of all lending decisions in the United States.


Whichever version your lender uses, what the FICO score means to them is how risky you are as a borrower.

Each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—calculates scores using FICO's formulas and information in detailed reports they keep on your credit history. Scores range from 300 to 850, with a higher score representing a lower risk to lenders.

In terms of general meaning, scores higher than 700 are considered good, while scores higher than 750 are considered excellent. Scores lower than 650 generally are considered bad, and lower than 600 are very poor. It's important to understand, though, that different lenders have different standards, and they're all looking at different details on your credit report. For example, a score of 675 may get you approved for a mortgage, but not for a particular type of credit card. No matter how low your credit rating may be, you can start building a better score today.

You can purchase your FICO scores from the three major credit bureaus by visiting myFICO.com. Some banks, credit unions, credit card issuers, and other financial services include a free FICO score with your monthly statement. You can also request a free copy of your credit report, which will include your FICO score, every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus.

How FICO Scores Work

Your FICO score is based on five key pieces of information:

  • Timeliness of Payments: This accounts for 35% of your score. This is a simple question of whether or not you pay your bills on time. If payments are late, are they 30, 60, or 90-plus days late? Have any accounts been sent to collections? Have you had any bankruptcies or foreclosures? The more negative marks you have, and the more severe they are, the more your score will be impacted.
  • Debt: The amount of debt you have affects 30% of your score. Credit bureaus look at what's called your "credit utilization ratio." Typically, your score will be higher if you use no more than about 30% of your available credit. So, if you have credit cards with combined limits of $10,000, your score will be higher if you keep your combined balances to no more than about $3,000. The lower you keep this ratio, the better.
  • Longevity: The age of your credit counts for 15% of your score. How long have you had your accounts open, on average? If you've been using credit for decades and doing so responsibly, you'll probably have a higher score than someone with a very short credit history. This is why it's a good idea to keep credit card accounts open, even if you no longer use them.
  • Inquiries: The number of recent credit applications you've submitted accounts for 10% of your score. If you apply for credit frequently, creditors will view you as a risk, which will lower your score. From a lender's perspective, people who seek new credit more often might be suffering from cash flow problems, which are a big red flag for lenders.
  • Account mix: The mix of accounts you have contributes about 10% of your score. This includes all types of loans: mortgage, auto loan, student loans, credit cards, and any other type of credit. The greater the variety of accounts you have, the better your score will be. Work to build a balanced blend of credit types over time.

What's Not Included in Your FICO


FICO scores cannot be based on anything discriminatory, such as your sex, race, marital status, religion, nationality, or age.

FICO says it doesn't consider information about where you live, your job, salary, or the interest rates on your credit accounts. While your credit applications can affect your score, soft inquiries into your credit do not impact FICO. These include your own requests to view your report, requests by potential employers, or lenders checking for pre-approval offers.

Notable Happenings

FICO was created in 1956 by engineer Bill Fair and mathematician Earl Isaac, and its name comes from what was Fair, Isaac, and Company. The initial goal was to improve business decisions by using data intelligently. Fair and Isaac developed and sold their first credit scoring system in 1958.

In 1991, FICO scores were released to the three major credit bureaus, and by 1995, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were recommending the use of FICO scores for mortgage lending. In 2009, the company officially changed its brand name and stock symbol to FICO.

FICO has evolved through many different versions over the years. Since 2014, the newest version of the FICO score, FICO 9, has reduced the impact of medical debt on consumer credit scores. Not all lenders adopt the latest FICO scores at the same pace, though. Many still rely on FICO 8, and some utilize several versions, so it's important to know which system your lender uses.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. FICOScore. "FICO Scores Are Used In Over 90% of U.S. Lending Decisions.

  2. FICOScore. "FICO Score Education: Your Credit Decisions Have a Direct Impact On Your Score."

  3. FICOScore. "FICO Score Education: Which FICO Score Version Matters to Me?"

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