FICO is Shocked by Default Data

FICO, the outfit that computes your vaunted “credit score,” has just noticed that consumers with high scores are more likely to default on their mortgages than their credit cards.

Last year, the firm says, folks with FICO scores of 760 or higher defaulted on real estate loans at three times the pace they defaulted on plastic.

This shouldn’t be any surprise to FICO. We noticed a few days ago that the number of consumers current on their cards but delinquent on their mortgages exploded by 50% in the year after Lehman went belly up. FICO has access to this data in real time.

But it appears flabbergasted by this development, marveling in the first paragraph of a press release that “most credit cards are unsecured credit and mortgages are secured by real estate.”

Earth to FICO: If you’re in an underwater home, why wouldn’t you commit strategic default and use the difference between a mortgage payment and rent on a similar home to pay down those cards? You might not even have to move if your mortgage lender doesn’t want to follow through on foreclosure and book the loss!

Still, FICO’s CEO told Bloomberg TV he’s stunned the phenomenon isn’t limited to subprime: “Now we’re starting to see at the high end of the marketplace people with good FICO scores having serious delinquency problems.”

There’s a hint of panic in the man’s words, as if he senses his entire business model is going down the toilet. Good riddance. Millions of mortgages were issued in the last decade on the basis of nothing more than the “score” issued by this company, which reveals exactly nothing about a borrower’s income, or how his debt load compares to his income. FICO wasn’t the cause of the housing bubble, just a trifling enabler.


Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning