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The rules for achieving a decent credit score haven’t changed much since credit scoring was invented: Pay all your bills on time, don’t use too much of your available credit and build a long history of responsible behavior.
But credit novices and those looking to rebuild after missteps now have two new tools they can use: Experian Boost and UltraFICO. Both reward good financial habits that go unrecognized by current credit scoring models.
Credit bureau Experian and analytics company FICO, most commonly known for the FICO credit score, say they created Boost and UltraFICO to help people starting out with credit or those who want to build it anew. They are likeliest to help those with scores in the 500s and 600s, the companies say.
Boost launched in March 2019 and is available to consumers on Experian’s website. UltraFICO is in a pilot phase and will be released widely in the spring of 2020, FICO says. The score is being tested by a handful of financial institutions such as PenFed Credit Union and credit card startup Deserve.
Both products have quirks you need to understand. Here’s the lowdown on Boost and UltraFICO and how to decide whether to use them:
How Boost and UltraFICO work
This free service lets you add points to your existing credit score. Here’s how:
Sign up on Experian’s website and connect your bank account information, allowing Boost to scan your transactions for utility and cellphone payments.
Select the bills you want added to your Experian credit report. Choose only the bills you know you paid on time. Since scores are calculated from the information in your reports, adding those positive payment records can help your score.
Check your progress. Signing up for Boost also gives you free access to your FICO score, so you can see the immediate effects of using it.
What to know:
Experian says Boost can benefit the FICO 8, FICO 9, and VantageScore 3 and 4 — all common scores that lenders use. But the effect only shows when a lender uses your Experian credit report with one of those scoring models. If a lender looks at scores based on your TransUnion or Equifax credit reports, it will not see the change.
Also, if you’ve frozen your Experian report, you can still use Boost; you need to unfreeze it before you apply for credit. You can opt out at any time.
One potential downside: Lenders not familiar with it may interpret utility and cell phone payments on your credit report as part of your debt load, which could affect your chances of qualifying for a loan or credit card. Experian says it is “working with lenders to ensure they understand these positive payments.”
This new type of FICO score is free to use, but you must opt in. It works in two steps:
You sign up on FICO’s website and link your bank accounts, allowing it to scan your transactions. The scoring algorithm checks whether you consistently have cash on hand, how long your accounts have been open, how active they are and how often you have a negative balance.
Before applying for a credit card or loan, ask the lender if it uses UltraFICO. Apply as normal. If the lender finds that your credit is not good enough to qualify, you can ask it to check your UltraFICO to see if you have a second shot. Your credit is pulled only once during the whole process, says Gregory Wright, chief product officer at Experian Consumer Information Services.
What to know: Unlike with Boost, you cannot check your UltraFICO score to see the effect. The only time you may see it is if you are turned down after the lender’s second look; it will send you a notice in the mail explaining why, says David Shellenberger, vice president of scores and predictive analytics at FICO. As with Boost, you can opt out at any time.
Deciding whether to use Boost or UltraFICO
If you know you manage money responsibly and your score doesn’t reflect that, Boost and UltraFICO may be worth exploring. However, you need to be comfortable sharing your bank account information.
Experian says nearly two-thirds of consumers who’ve signed up since Boost’s launch added points to their score, with an average jump of more than 13 points. Some users have reported trouble connecting their accounts, specifically those with USAA Bank, an issue Wright says Experian is trying to fix.
Right now both Boost and UltraFICO only work with credit scores based on data in your Experian report.
Traditional ways of building credit, while slower to show results, are more likely to help all versions of your credit score:
You could apply for a secured credit card.
You could take out a credit-builder loan from a lender that reports to all three credit bureaus.
You can also ask to be added as an authorized user on the credit card account of someone who has a good payment history. Again, verify that the card issuer reports authorized user information to the three bureaus.