You're ready to buy a new car.
You've done all your homework.
You know your three FICO credit scores.
You determine that your highest FICO credit score is from Equifax (also known as your BEACON score).
So, you find a car dealer who uses your highest score (which increases your opportunity to get approved at a good rate).
You get to the dealership and ignore all the salespeople by going directly to the finance director's office.
But as the finance director reviews your credit file in front of you...you can't help but think something is wrong.
Sure enough...the dealer says your Equifax/BEACON score isn't high enough for their lowest interest rate.
How can this be? You just checked your FICO credit scores through www.myfico.com/12 a few hours ago. It's possible—although unlikely—the information on your credit report has changed and that your scores have decreased since you last checked them. Remember, your credit scores are dynamic and will change whenever information on your credit reports changes.
Your credit reports can change several times each month as new information is added or updated by your lenders. But more than likely, your scores wouldn't change in this situation (especially if there were only a few hours between when you checked your scores and when the dealership reviewed your credit reports).
So, if your credit reports didn't change, why is the finance director staring at your scores with such a discouraging face?
Car Dealers Can Use "Different" FICO Scores Than The Ones You See
The car dealer is probably using what is known as the FICO Auto Industry Option score instead of a traditional FICO credit score. You see, car dealers not only get to select the credit reporting agency they receive FICO credit scores from...they also get to decide if they will use a traditional FICO credit score or a variation of a FICO score called an Auto Industry Option score.
What's the difference between these two types of scores?
Not a whole lot to most people...but there's enough variation to make the majority of auto lenders use the Auto Industry Option score. The real difference between the two scores is that the Auto Industry Option score pays a lot more attention to how you handled previous auto credit.
- Have you made late payments on a current or previous auto loan or lease?
- Have you ever settled an auto loan or lease for less than you owed?
- Have you had a car repossessed?
- Have you had an auto account sent to collections?
- Did you include your car loan or lease in your bankruptcy?
Those actions will affect your Auto Industry Option score more than they'll affect your traditional FICO score. Bottom line, if you handled your previous auto credit perfectly, you should have a high FICO Auto Industry Option score—that's a good thing.
But what if you've had a few bumps in the auto credit road in the past? You guessed it...your Auto Industry Option score will be lower. You'll be perceived as a greater credit risk and the auto lender may either deny you or use your lower score to justify charging you a higher interest rate.
You see, auto lenders are different than other types of lenders. And I'm not talking about their slimy ways, leisure suits, short ties, manly hairy chests, or gold bling.
A lot of other lenders look at your whole credit picture to determine whether or not to give you a loan. But many auto lenders care about only one thing...how you handled your past AUTO credit. That's what a FICO Auto Industry Option Score gives car dealers—a way to pinpoint how you've handled what matters to them the most.
So, even if everything else on your credit reports went down the toilet after your bankruptcy, if you didn't include your auto loan in your bankruptcy and never defaulted or missed a car payment, your Auto Industry scores will probably be better than your traditional FICO scores!
What a Former Auto Finance Director Revealed to Me
I recently spoke with a former finance director, and this is what she told me...
"So many people I have helped couldn't believe their scores were so high with the FICO Auto Industry Option score. They had included all their credit card debt and their mortgage in their bankruptcy, but they reaffirmed their auto loan. What's good about the auto score is that it truly helps the auto lender concentrate on what is important—how the customer handles his/her auto loans.
By our dealership having the auto enhanced FICO, it helped 30% or more of our customers get better rates."
I don't believe I'm going to say this, but I think I may actually have found something good to say about car dealers! Well, some of them, anyway...
As you can see, the FICO auto scores can work in your favor, if they are used correctly.
OK, I just wouldn't be able to live with myself if I only said good things about car dealers.
So, in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, here's how to protect yourself against slimy car dealers that can use your FICO Auto Industry Option
scores against you...
A Dirty Trick Car Dealers Can Play with Your FICO Scores
Let's imagine your Equifax/Beacon FICO score is 585. Not too good. With a score that low, if you do get approved for a car loan, you'll probably wind up with a high interest rate and high monthly payment.
So you go to a dealership and talk with the finance director and tell him your Equifax FICO score is 585. The finance director then reviews your FICO Auto Industry Option score. And, unknown to you, this score is actually higher than the Equifax/Beacon FICO score you pulled.
With this higher score, you'll get approved at a better rate...right?
Here's what unscrupulous car dealers can do. They won't tell you that your auto score is higher than your traditional score!
They figure they have a sucker sitting in front of them. So they'll try to get you financed at a higher rate based on the lower FICO score (thus making more profit for themselves).
How Some Car Dealers "Play the Spread" to Get You to Pay More
Now check this out...
It's possible that a car dealer has the ability to pull your traditional FICO scores AND your FICO auto scores. That means they'll have six scores on you. It's a guarantee that some of those scores are going to be higher than the others. So which ones will they use when trying to get you financed?
Are you familiar with the term "spread"? It's how car dealers make money when they finance you. If they can quote you a higher interest rate than you deserve—then they stand to make a nice chunk of change from the bank that finances you.
The only way to make a killer "spread" is to make you think that you have lower scores.
So, what can you do?
Don't despair...I can help you.
How to Use Your FICO Scores to Your Advantage when Buying a Car
Fortunately, you don't have to fall for their dirty tricks. Now that you know all about FICO Auto Industry Option scores, you can protect yourself. Here's what I suggest...
1. When you first walk into the finance director's office, don't tell him what your FICO scores are. Wait until he reviews the scores himself. Then ask him what your scores are.
2. If the scores he reviewed are higher than the ones you have, don't say anything and just go by his scores.
3. However, if your scores are higher, then pull them out and show him. If he has a choice in the type of scores he can use, there's a possibility that he'll be able to use your highest score. And, it will let him know that he doesn't have a fool sitting in front of him. He can't take advantage of you!
How do you find out what your FICO Auto Industry Option scores are before you walk into a car dealership?
Sorry. They're not for sale—at any price. Only lenders have access to them.
FICO would like to sell them...but there just isn't enough demand. I mean seriously, up until you read this article, had you ever heard of the FICO Auto Industry Option score?
Remember, we were just given access to purchase all three of our traditional FICO credit scores on June 11, 2003 at 8:00 a.m. (I actually got misty that day...what a geek I am.)
Only a very small percentage of the population even knows they have three FICO credit scores...let alone three Auto Industry Option scores.
So How Can You Use This Information to Help You Get Your Next New Car Financed at the Best Interest Rate
1. First, get your three credit reports. If you handled your previous auto credit well—your FICO Auto Industry Option scores will be higher than your traditional FICO scores. So expect more from the lender.
2. You can also ask the lender to show you their tier levels. Tiers are basically charts lenders use that have different interest rates based on your scores. You want to see which tier your fall in. To see an example of an auto lender's tier schedule, click here.
3. If they won't show you...at least have them break it down verbally for you. (Personally, I like to see it with my own eyes, as I never believe a word that comes out of most car dealers' mouths.)
4. If you've handled your auto credit poorly...then you should simply try to find an auto lender that uses just the traditional FICO credit scores. When you find a lender that uses a traditional FICO credit score, you'll have your best chance to get the lowest interest rate.
5. Start by calling dealerships and asking the finance director if they use a traditional FICO credit score to make their lending decision or if they use the FICO Auto Industry Option score.
These steps will get you headed in the right direction. This won't be easy, as a lot of car dealers use the FICO Auto Industry Option score.
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Stephen Snyder is the founder of the After Bankruptcy Foundation a non-profit organization that provides free bankruptcy recovery information He has helped thousands of people get a car loan after bankruptcy by showing them how to increase their credit score.
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