Monday, June 4, 2007

New Lows in Obtaining Credit – Diluting the Value of the FICO Score

Originally found this on The Big Picture. It is a little long, but worth the effort if you are involved in scoring or underwriting. The whole article is on Yahoo.

Only a low credit score stood between Alipio Estruch and a mortgage to buy a $449,000 Spanish-style house in Weston, Fla., a few miles west of Fort Lauderdale.

Instead of spending several years repairing his credit rating, which he said was marred by two forgotten cell phone bills and identity theft, the 37-year-old real estate agent paid $1,800 to an Internet-based company to bump up his score almost overnight.

This is how it works:, or ICB, helped Estruch boost his score by arranging for him to be added as an authorized user on several credit cards of people with stellar credit who were paid to allow this coattailing. Parents also use this practice when they add their children to their credit cards to help them build solid credit.

For example,

Brian Kinney, 44, a retired Army officer in Glendale, Calif., pulls in more than $2,500 a month by lending out 19 credit card spots on two old Citibank cards with strong payment histories. Kinney, whose FICO score is above 800 on the scale of 300 to 850, quit his job working at a Farmers Insurance agency and uses the ICB income to tide him over until he starts his own insurance agency.

Lenders are worried, however, that they're taking on greater default risks by unknowingly offering lower interest rates than they otherwise would to applicants who artificially boost their credit scores. Their trade group has complained to the Federal Trade Commission and is talking with the credit reporting bureaus in case the practice becomes more widespread.
Estruch paid $1,800 in December for three credit card spots, and by January, his FICO score jumped from 550 to 715. In mid-March, he closed on his four-bedroom beige stucco house after obtaining a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage from a unit of American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. It carried a 7.5 percent interest rate and required no down payment.

Companies like Largo, Fla.-based ICB are sprouting on the Internet with little overhead and no-frills marketing. They post ads on community Web sites like Craigslist and have sponsored links on Google and Yahoo. Competitors of ICB have even reached out to mortgage brokers, lenders and real estate agents, flooding their e-mail with advertisements.

Jason LaBossiere, who founded ICB a year and a half ago, said his company receives 100 to 150 new leads daily -- a number that has been growing -- and those inquiries lead to 10 to 20 new clients a week.

ICB charges $900 for the first credit card account, with a discount for additional ones. The cardholder allowing the piggybacking on his or her credit history can receive $100 to $150 per slot, depending on the age and credit limit of each card. ICB pockets the rest.

The effect on a credit score can vary depending on what else is in a client's report. But one borrowed credit card account can increase a score between 30 and 45 points, two between 60 and 90 points, and five between 150 and 205 points, according to ICB. That's because the computer program that calculates scores is essentially tricked into believing the credit renter has a better repayment history when it sees the added accounts, and that helps lift the credit score.

Once the credit card company files an updated report to credit bureaus -- leading to a higher FICO score -- the credit renter is removed from the account of the person allowing the piggybacking. However, the credit card's payment history remains on the authorized user's credit report forever, and lenders have no way of knowing how the credit borrower is related to the cardholder.

Kinney, the retired Army officer in California, said those borrowing his good credit history don't get his personal information, full credit card number or credit card expiration dates. Any sensitive data is handled through ICB, and Kinney adds the users himself by calling his credit card company. ICB also destroys any duplicate cards that are issued to the credit renter, according to its contract.

Instead of being worried about risks he may be assuming, Kinney said borrowers are the ones vulnerable to scammers posing as do-gooders. Those seeking a credit hike give the cardholder their names and Social Security numbers, which, in the wrong hands, could lead to identity theft. Kinney said he also receives credit card offers in the mail for the credit borrowers on his accounts, opening up another possibility for fraud, but he throws them away.

"I know the whole thing sounds kind of odd and not very legitimate, but it is for now," Kinney said. "I don't know how long before someone will decide it's illegal. But I'm not counting on this for the long-term."

"These companies are encouraging consumers to commit fraud. On a standard home loan, there's a clause that says the consumer is not omitting pertinent facts that could impact his or her ability to repay the loan," Ferguson said.

The cure for this would be to require all tradelines in the credit bureau that are authorized user accounts be excluded from the analysis. The credit granting company could also require the applicant to give the vitals on the authorized user account such as account number, expiration date, and original card holder. Ultimately, this procedure will have to be tested to determine if it is fraud.

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