In the 90 days after Equifax Inc. and Fair, Isaac & Co. first began making Fair, Isaac credit scores available, two Web sites where the scores are being sold got more than 40 million visits combined, a number that surprised the companies offering them and signaled the publics interest in monitoring information about their creditworthiness.
Until March credit scores based on a model developed by Fair, Isaac called Fico scores were sold to lenders but were not available to consumers unless they had been denied a loan.
As the national debates over privacy and lending standards began escalating, lawmakers and consumer groups put pressure on Fair, Isaac and the credit bureaus to be more forthcoming.
Fair, Isaac of San Rafael, Calif., and Equifax of Atlanta introduced an online product called Score Power, which delivers a consumers Equifax credit report, Fico score, and Fair, Isaacs guide to the score for $12.95. The companies are using the three-month milestone to usher in another product, a subscription to Score Power that lets people view the same information four times a year for $38.85.
But consumers may not have to pay for this information much longer. A new California law taking effect July 1 requires real estate lenders and mortgage brokers to disclose to consumers a credit score that was used to evaluate their loan application. E-Loan Inc., an online lending company in Dublin, Calif., that ran into trouble with Fair, Isaac last year for giving away the scores on its Web site, said Wednesday that it plans to start dispensing the scores again as soon as the law kicks in.
Equifax and Fair, Isaac would not say how many of the 40 million visits to www.equifax.com and www.myfico.com produced a sale of Score Power, but Mike Bush, senior vice president and general manager of the consumer direct business at Equifax, said it was a good number.
The consumer interest combined with the media interest in the product just created something that exceeded our expectations, Mr. Bush said.
Cheri St. John, vice president and general manager of global alliances at Fair, Isaac, said traffic volumes have been driven by the medias strong interest in Score Power, which has been covered by Good Morning, America, Readers Digest, and other high-profile outlets.
I dont think the media would be interested if there wasnt general consumer interest out there, Ms. St. John said.
Mr. Bush said: A credit score has been one of those deep secrets to consumers for years. Many didnt know what their Fico scores were or that they even existed.
Ms. St. John agreed with Mr. Bush that the publics response had come as a surprise. Before we launched, we knew there had been media interest and consumer advocacy interest, but we asked, How many people do you think will actually pay $12.95 to get a copy of their score? We had to respond that we really didnt know, she said. We tried to prepare for a high volume, but we were actually surprised that the demand was greater than expected.
The companies would not say how many of the 40 million visits represented multiple ones by the same people, but Mr. Bush said: I cant imagine making lots of visits. The Equifax Web site isnt that interesting. You come to the site for a specific reason.
Ms. St. John said the California law that mandates disclosure of credit scores does not require that the score be a Fico score or even the score on which the loan decision was ultimately based.
In a telephone interview, Chris Larsen, chairman and chief executive officer of E-Loan, called the law a step in the right direction and said that credit scores should be like stock quotes: You can get them from just about anybody and for free.
In February 2000, E-Loan briefly dispensed free Fico scores until the companies that fed its data cut it off, at Fair, Isaacs behest. Fair, Isaac said E-Loan behaved irresponsibly by not explaining the scores or accompanying them with an official credit report.
Its a bogus accusation, said Mr. Larsen, who said E-Loan wants to see the mechanisms of credit scores thoroughly and publicly revealed. Its almost a philosophical difference. The bureaus think if consumers know how the scores are built, they will manipulate them. We think they wont manipulate them, theyll manage them.