Students beware: Being smart hurts some credit scores

This Sunday’s New York Times shed further light on the problem with credit scores like Fair Isaac Company’s FICO score. In short, students applying for loans are penalized for shopping around for a competitive interest rate.

I find it outrageous that young consumers, most of whom are just starting to build a credit history, are harmed for exercising sound financial judgment. This is another symptom of mysterious "black box" risk scores… it’s not just your payment activity or balances they look at. They try to gauge your intentions to predict how risky you are.

In this case, the score gets it dead wrong:

Lots of inquiries send the wrong signals to the formulas that create the popular FICO credit score… namely that borrowers may be applying for multiple loans because they’re financially troubled and potentially going bankrupt.

The damage is even greater for young students who have a short credit history.

There’s even a website, a sort of Lending Tree for student loans, that aims to circumvent the vicious cycle of:

  • Shop for a loan
  • They check your credit
  • Your score drops
  • Try somewhere else
  • They check your now-worse credit
  • Your score drops further…

The FICO creators need to come out from hiding behind the black box, where our smarter score proudly sits. Or at the least, they should overlook multiple hits to the credit file of student loan shoppers. (A similar exception exists when you are shopping for an auto or home loan; that is, when different loan officers check your credit in the same two weeks, it doesn’t damage your score.)