Although there is no one “real” credit score among the more than 1,000 different types that exist, which means no single score is all that important, it’s nevertheless troubling that we as consumers can’t get our hands on Experian FICO Scores. After all, every one of our credit scores is based on our financial data from our major credit reports: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Access to this information should therefore be our right, particularly given its financial implications. But it’s not.
And do you know why that’s the case? Because the credit reporting and scoring system in the United States is flawed and riddled with conflicts of interest that enable credit bureaus to put their business agendas ahead of basic consumer rights, like accessing our own data, even for a fee.
You see, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion once had a longstanding relationship with the Fair Isaac Corporation (i.e. FICO) that brought credit scores to the very people whose fiscal responsibility they reflect – consumers – through a program called myFICO. However, in 2009, Experian and FICO were unable to reach an agreement to extend this partnership. While it’s clear that this impasse resulted in a prohibition of the sale of Experian FICO scores, its underlying causes are decidedly less certain.
Experian publicly contends that the split came as a result of unreasonable demands on the part of FICO and that the development actually won’t prevent consumers from gauging their creditworthiness and properly managing their finances.
Industry insiders doubt that, however, believing that Experian’s decision to terminate its agreement with FICO was actually fueled by the company’s desire to replace the FICO score with its own credit score as well as bad blood lingering from a 2006 lawsuit brought by FICO against Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. It’s obviously in FICO’s best interest to continue selling Experian-based scores, after all, and the split only served to devalue the FICO score while increasing the relevance of Experian’s own credit scores.
Experian itself lent credence to this theory with an open letter posted on the company’s website following the breakdown in negotiations with FICO.
“I want you to be aware that this change by no means eliminates your ability to assess your creditworthiness, including access to credit scores.” the letter read. “There is no one credit score that all financial institutions use to make decisions, and there is also no one credit score that consumers must use to help them understand and manage their credit.”
Experian clearly is using consumers’ financial information as a bargaining chip of some sort, and identifying the root cause of the Experian-FICO divorce neither solves the problem of Experian FICO score inaccessibility, nor that of the troubling conflicts of interest that led to it. That’s a job the newly-formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is well-equipped to handle. Whether they eventually decide to do so or not is another story entirely.