Retired Teacher Seeks Credit Score Reform



Gerry Bessler will tell you right up front that his mission to change the criteria used to determine FICO credit scores is not a vendetta.

"I'm not a saint or anything," the retired industrial arts teacher said. "I have as many vices as the average person.

"But I thought this was wrong, so I decided to take it on."

And it's not to get his own FICO credit score changed, because at 802 he's in the top 1 percent in the nation.

What Bessler is incensed about is the fact that his -- and your -- credit score are impacted by the total number of credit cards you have -- both open and closed -- even if you simply switched cards to get a better interest rate.

"Let's say you change credit cards because this bank gives you a better deal," he said. "So you close (the old account) when it's in good standing."

That's exactly what Bessler has done on numerous occasions, but then he was told by one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) that his score was impacted his 20 bank and charge accounts -- the average person has about five. Bessler only carries two active credit cards; the rest were all closed with zero balances in the process of securing new cards with lower interest rates.

"They can list all the credit cards I've had in my lifetime, I don't care, but don't let it count against me on my credit number," he said.

Bessler is also outraged that the number of credit inquiries made by lending agencies also lowers your credit number.

"Let's say you want to buy a car, so you make (an) application to Bank One, you make (an) application to another bank, you make application to three banks," he said. "They each check your credit rating, and that works against you. It'll reduce your credit number."

The way Bessler looks at it, he's being punished for being a good financial manager.

"Now, why should your credit number be reduced because you're fiscally responsible; you're looking for something to better yourself?" he asked.


Gerry Bessler says many of the practices credit bureaus use to score a person's financial health are unfair and damaging to credit ratings.

Bessler, who went back to college after retiring from the U.S. Navy at the age of 36, has a minor in math. He likes to work with numbers, but he doesn't like numbers that arbitrarily lower FICO scores.

"The credit score is (also) determined by late payments and total debt," he said. "Now I can understand those, but if you buy a house you want to pay the best rate, and the more inquiries there are, the less your number will be."

When Bessler discovered that Rep. Rick Renzi, representative for District 1, is on the house banking committee, he decided to take the issue up with the congressman.

He began with Renzi's Flagstaff office, but was simply given copies of reports anybody could obtain over the Internet.

He wasn't satisfied.

Then, about a year ago, he heard Renzi would be appearing on a talk show on local radio station KMOG. He called in and read a statement/question he had prepared, which read in part:

"Congressman, I am your constituent and have contributed to your election committee. I've been trying to get your attention to a particular subject which I feel you should address for well over a year. No one can say the policy of using open and closed accounts to determine a person's credit number is a fair practice. Can you help me and other consumers?"

Renzi referred Bessler to an aide in his Washington, D.C. office. He tried working with the aide, but was still frustrated by what he felt was a lack of real action.

"I finally called her (a last time)," he said. "Of course, she didn't answer the phone, but I left a message."

It said, in effect, that Bessler would not be calling her again, but he would show up anywhere in Arizona where Renzi appears to press his cause.

"I will approach him on this subject again and again and again," he said.

Bessler did just that when Renzi appeared at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce a few months ago. He and the congressman even ended up together in a photo that ran in the Chicago Tribune.

Renzi declined to comment specifically on Bessler or his communications with the congressman's office, but did issue this statement:

"As the only member of the House Financial Services Committee from Arizona, I have a unique understanding of how the credit scoring process works. It allows Americans to establish positive credit ratings in order to purchase vehicles and houses for their families, but there is always room for improvement. Our office is working to address concerns brought to us about the credit scoring process and we are working with the House Financial Services Committee to look at both administrative and legislative solutions for this issue."

Bessler emphasized that he means no disrespect and that he's not doing anything wrong.

"He's my congressman, and this is his responsibility," he said. Besides, Bessler believes a credit score is much more than just a number.

"What's more important to the average person than his finances?" he said. "His finances determine where he lives, who his friends are -- so much of his life. It determines everything."

Know the score Q and A

Q: What is a credit score and how is it calculated?

Credit scoring is a statistical means of assessing how likely a borrower is to pay back a loan. A credit score is based on some or all of the data available in the borrower's credit report, good, bad, or indifferent. Fair Isaac Corp., also known as FICO, ranges credit scores from approximately 375 to 900 points. Fair Isaac uses credit information for millions of consumers to develop "score cards" to identify credit patterns that correspond to a likelihood that consumers will make their loan payments.

Q: What is a good score?

That is the lender's opinion. Good credit generally starts between 660 and 700. Acceptable between 500 and 550.

Q: Why did my credit report receive the score it did?

That is a secret. The credit scoring companies will not release the formula for determining a score.

Q: What can I do to increase my credit score?

Time fixes a lot of things. As the items age, they become less important. Correcting negative errors will improve the score, but that may take 60 to 90 days to take effect. Repeated inquires while correcting credit will worsen the score. Easy things to do that will improve scores are: Closing unneeded accounts, paying off credit cards, and limiting inquiries.

Q: How can I contact the three credit reporting agencies:

Each has a website, or call:

Equifax: (800) 685-1111

Experian (TRW): (800) 831-5614

TransUnion: (316) 634-8440

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