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FICO 9: What It Is and How It Works

Written by Mike Pearson
Updated August 9, 2022

Your credit score is one of the most influential numbers in your life. It can affect your ability to borrow money or open a credit card as well as your insurance and interest rates, employment prospects, and more. It’s critical to understand what goes into a credit score and what you can do to improve yours.

Most people are familiar with the FICO credit score, the most widely used score in the lending industry. But did you know more than one version of the FICO score exists? The latest version, released in 2014, is called FICO 9. If your lender uses FICO 9, you should be familiar with it to maximize your score and avoid common pitfalls.

Here’s everything you need to know about FICO 9 and how it works.

What is the FICO Score?

Lenders use the FICO score to decide whether to give you a loan (and how much interest to charge you if they do). Your FICO score can also affect your ability to rent an apartment, get insurance, or even get a job.

Your FICO score is calculated using information from your credit report. The information in your credit report is constantly changing, so your FICO score can change too. 

What is FICO 9?

FICO 9 is the latest version of the FICO score, but FICO 9 isn’t used widely quite yet. Slowly, lenders are beginning to adopt it as they let go of the former FICO 8. Now’s the time to learn the ins and outs of this score so you can make it work to your advantage.

FICO 9 is a model of credit scoring that is owned and introduced by the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) that gives you a number score between 300 and 850. To lenders, the score represents how trustworthy you are and how likely you are to repay your debts in full. Lenders heavily consider the score when you apply for loans or credit cards.

How Is It Different?

FICO 9 stands out from previous versions of the FICO score in a few ways. It considers aspects such as medical bills, rent history, and paid collections accounts in a new way that previous scores may not have taken into account.

Paid Collection Debts

First, it treats paid collections differently. In the past, with other scores, having any paid debts still reflected poorly on your credit score. However, with the FICO 9, as long as outstanding bills sent to collections are paid in full by the consumer, you won’t see a negative impact on your score.

For those who have faced unplanned financial emergencies and have been able to pay them off, this change allows them to raise their scores despite this past. It also incentivizes other consumers to pay their outstanding debts in full to see a positive change in their score.

Medical Bills

Another difference is how the FICO 9 score treats medical bills. Following recent research about how medical debt is hurting consumer credit scores, medical debt won’t impact FICO 9 credit scores as much as it previously did with other scoring models. Now, the 43 million people with medical debt will see a much smaller impact than other kinds of debt.

Remember: The new FICO 9 scoring system won’t erase your medical debt or solve the problems of our complex and often confusing medical billing infrastructure.

Rent History

In addition, FICO 9 now takes into account your rent payments. Rent was never considered in previous FICO scores, limiting renters in how much they can establish a strong rental history – especially when just starting out. Now, as long as the landlord reports the payments directly to at least one credit bureau, these payments will all be factored into the FICO 9 score.

Landlords aren’t required to report your payments. If having your rental payments recorded and factored into your credit history could benefit you, ask your landlord if they can report all payments before you make your final decision and sign a rental contract. If not, you may be able to self-report these payments.

Who Uses FICO 9?

Lenders are slowly starting to adopt FICO 9, but it’s not yet widely used. Some of the major credit reporting agencies and some lenders have started using it, and others are beginning to consider it, but it will likely be a few years before it’s the primary score used by all businesses.

In the meantime, you can still use FICO 9 to your advantage. You can get your FICO 9 score from some credit reporting agencies and use it to track your progress. If you see a drop in your score, you’ll know that you need to take steps to improve it.

In addition, using the new scoring system may help you get approved for loans or credit cards that you otherwise might have been denied for.

Improving FICO 9 Score

You can do a few different things to improve your FICO 9 score.

Take Advantage of Rent Payments

Ask your landlord if they will start reporting your rent payments to the credit bureaus. If they agree, ensure you always pay on time so it makes a positive impact.

Minimize Credit Used

Experian, one of the primary credit bureaus, recommends you use no more than 30% of your available credit on each account.

Stay Up to Date

Check your credit score regularly to see how your behavior, including on-time payments, opening up new credit, or adding rental payments could impact your score.

Set Bills to Auto-Pay

Set your utility, phone, and other regular bills to auto-pay so you don’t have to worry about late payments hurting your score.

Final Thoughts

FICO 9 is a new credit scoring system created to provide a more accurate picture of a consumer’s creditworthiness. It takes into account things like medical debt and rental payments, which weren’t considered in previous scoring models.

You can access your FICO 9 score from some credit reporting agencies, but it’s not yet widely used by all businesses. In the meantime, you can still use it to track your progress and see how your behavior can impact your score.

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Mike Pearson


Mike is a recognized credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff. His credit advice has been featured in Investopedia, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, Huffpost, The Simple Dollar, Reader's Digest, LendingTree, and Quickbooks. Read more.