Are Credit Scores Fair?

"On the fairness side you can look at the historical perspective," Paperno said. "Compared to the old days, things are a lot better."

Better, Perhaps, but Not Perfect

Since your credit scores are based on your credit reports, the accuracy of those reports is crucial to your access to credit. That's why reviewing your reports and scores regularly is so important, and if you find errors, you need to address them right away. Of course, that can be a tricky process, which the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has already started investigating.

“When you can send someone to the moon faster than you can get the credit report fixed, there’s something wrong,” Paperno said.

Beyond improving credit reporting, scoring companies need to constantly evaluate their algorithms.

"It is important to acknowledge that the marketplace has changed," said Anthony Sprauve, senior consumer credit specialist at FICO. Sprauve said the company is working to find ways to evaluate people who haven't traditionally been on the radar of credit bureaus and scoring companies.

VantageScore 3.0 (which is available for free through Credit.com) was released in 2013 and scores 30 million to 35 million more consumers than previous models, because it scores people who infrequently use credit, have just started using credit or have no open trade lines. FICO, for example, scores only consumers with at least one trade line on their credit reports that is at least six months old, and they must have at least one trade line that has been updated within the last six months. FICO recently announced the upcoming release of its newest model, FICO Score 9, which Sprauve has said will be more predictive but sticks to the aforementioned scoring requirements.

Yet there's a struggle between trying to score more people and trying to score them properly — there's more consumer data available than ever before, but making sure it's accurate and using it effectively is a huge challenge. That's why scoring models take years to develop.

"Credit scoring modelers are continuously reviewing the predictiveness of their credit scoring models and revising them and updating them based on the marketplace," Griffin said. "The bottom line is lenders want to make loans — it’s how they make money. Scoring systems and credit reporting help them do that while managing the risk of doing so."

It’s Not All Black and White

Despite the inflexibility of the model, credit scores can also be forgiving. Negative information loses its clout as time goes on, allowing people to move past moments of financial crisis and fleeting mistakes. Even the worst things in your past eventually age off your credit reports, diminishing in importance as they do, meaning you're not totally out of commission for the whole seven years after you find yourself with a collections account before it drops off of your reports entirely.

Most people have to work hard to get what they want out of the credit system. Others enter the system with a head start.

For example: Paperno made his daughter an authorized user on his credit card when she was younger. Through no action of her own, she has a good credit history attached to her name. With no job and no direct account responsibility of her own, this 18-year-old started getting credit card offers in the mail that were better than the ones her father — the one doing all the credit work — would get.

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