Fair Isaac Corp. now says that FICO 08, the newest version of its FICO score, will be available early next year — a year later than originally scheduled.

Careen Foster, a senior manager of global scoring at Fair Isaac, said last week that the delay was caused primarily by concern about what to do with authorized users of credit card accounts.

The Chicago credit bureau TransUnion LLC will be the first credit bureau to test FICO 08, in late January, she said. The Atlanta credit bureau Equifax Inc. told American Banker it plans to have the newest version incorporated into its scoring models by the second quarter. Ms. Foster said Experian Inc., of Costa Mesa, Calif., has not set a timetable for FICO 08's release. (Neither Experian nor TransUnion returned calls.)

Traditionally, authorized users were cardholders' spouses or teenage children. Being added to the account of someone with better credit gives the authorized user's score a lift.

In recent years, a burgeoning cottage industry of "credit repair" Web sites has attracted people with poor credit who arrange to be listed as authorized users on accounts held by strangers. Typically, the account holder gets paid to allow an authorized user on his or her account.

Because of such "piggybacking," Fair Isaac originally planned not to include authorized users in the fifth version of FICO. But in August the company reversed course, saying banks and mortgage lenders wanted to keep authorized users in the score for compliance reasons. At the time, the vendor said FICO 08 would be available by yearend.

Fair Isaac has said that banks did not want authorized users dropped from FICO 08 because they rely on FICO to meet a requirement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in which lenders must consider the credit of a spouse when evaluating creditworthiness.

Currently as many as three generations of FICO are supported by the credit bureaus and being used by mortgage lenders. Ms. Foster cautioned that lenders should avoid using an older version of FICO because "two years could go by and they're not reassessing the risk."

"Consumers that are credit-hungry in today's market are riskier," she said.

Fair Isaac, of Minneapolis, said it is in discussions with some mortgage servicers that want to use the updated score to determine which borrowers should be targeted to get loan modifications.

Ms. Foster said FICO 08 will help home lenders to refinance borrowers into lower-cost loans. The score does a better job of predicting risk and could allow lenders to reduce default rates by 5% to 15%, she said.

"The updated FICO score is more predictive especially as lenders are looking to do workouts and restructuring existing customers," Ms. Foster said.

Fair Isaac said FICO 08 also is more discriminating in how it treats consumers with a single delinquency. Previous FICO versions automatically penalized consumers for any delinquency — akin to throwing someone who has committed a misdemeanor "in jail along with all the murderers," said Craig Watts, a spokesman for Fair Isaac. FICO 08 will instead treat a single delinquency "as if a consumer is on probation," he said.

It also allows for a high number of credit inquiries on a credit file without automatically lowering a score, taking into account that more consumers are shopping for rates.

Some lenders have reduced their reliance on FICO scores and instead are emphasizing income data in the underwriting process as a better determinant of a borrower's capacity to pay (or get caught up on missed payments).

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