Can Your Previous Credit Scores Haunt You?

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This article by John Ulzheimer originally appeared on partner site Mint.

The following credit score question was submitted via the SmartCredit.com blog

When your credit score is accessed and analyzed, do they only look and care about the current score, or do they also look at how high or low the score had been in the past?

Meaning, do they look at how much debt you may have carried or how careless you may have been in the past?

This is a very good question. In fact, it’s so good that it prompted me to write this article.

The question can really be paraphrased as, “Is my credit past going to haunt me in the present?” This can be tackled from two angles: credit reporting and credit scoring.

A credit report is also commonly referred to as a credit history, and it’s called a “history” for a reason – credit reports contain historical credit relationships and credit management practices. The good stuff can stay as long as the credit bureaus want. The bad stuff has to be removed eventually (normally after seven to 10 years).

Can your past credit mistakes haunt you today?

Yes, they can. That’s the reason lenders pull your credit report. They want to see if you’re creditworthy today and if you’ve been creditworthy in the past.

When it comes to your past credit scores, it gets a little complicated. Credit scores are not a part of your credit report.

I know that doesn’t make any sense, especially since it seems like every credit report has a score attached to it. Many people incorrectly use the terms interchangeably.

Credit scores are products sold along with your credit reports. (Because they are not a permanent part of your credit report, they are NOT a part of the federal law that allows consumers to get one free credit report each year.) And because they’re not a part of your credit report, there is no “credit score history” that lenders can see.

One day at a time

Credit scores are dynamic because they can change day to day. If I applied for a loan with Bank of America today and they pulled my credit report, they’d see my score as of today. If I applied for a loan with Citibank a couple of weeks later, a new credit score would be calculated.

If my credit reports changed materially in that time, then the newer score would likely be different from the older score. The newer lender (Citi) would not see the same exact score the older lender (Bank of America) saw unless my credit report had not changed, which is very unlikely, especially over a period of a few weeks.

Good and bad news

Taking this concept of dynamic scores even further, the same applies for much older credit scores that were calculated perhaps during a time when your credit management practices weren’t very good.

If 36 months ago my credit report looked like a train wreck with late payments and excessive credit card debt, then my credit score at that time wouldn’t have been very good. However, if I have since changed my credit management practices, stopped missing payments, and gotten myself out of debt, I’d have a much more impressive score today.

Thankfully, a lender cannot access that older score and the credit bureaus cannot recreate those older scores. This sounds like good news, but it might not be so good in the grand scheme of things.

Creatures of habit

Research performed by FICO, the king of the credit score, suggests most consumers are creatures of habit when it comes to their credit scores and it’s rare that our scores change drastically.

Over the time period from October 2006 to April 2011, 33.5 percent of the credit bureau population (67 million consumers) maintained “high creditworthiness during a severe economic downturn” with scores near or above 800.

During the same period of time, 14.3 percent of the population (28.6 million consumers) were defined as “medium and high risk” consumers, with scores near or below 600.

Only 2.15 percent of the population (4.3 million consumers) went from a low-risk score range (scores that were mid to high-700s) to a high-risk range (scores approaching 600) and saw their scores fall by more than 150 points. Conversely, only 1.5 percent of the same population (3 million consumers) saw their scores increase by more than 100 points.

So, out of 200 million consumer credit files, only 3.65 percent (7.3 million) saw their scores change from good to bad or bad to good. We certainly are creatures of habit!

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