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Piggybacking to Boost FICO Scores: Does it Still Work?

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If you’ve gone in search of ways to boost your bad credit score, you may have encountered a trick called “piggybacking.”  It’s a tactic that credit repair services use to raise a consumer’s score simply by adding them as an authorized user on accounts in good standing.  These accounts typically include long credit histories, high credit limits and relatively low balances—all factors that the FICO scoring model loves to see. The result: the consumer with bad (or no) credit suddenly reaps the benefits of “piggybacking” on someone else’s good credit. It sounds like an easy fix to a typically difficult problem—after all, it usually takes a lot of time and effort to build good credit.  However, this fix won’t work for everyone, despite what credit repair companies want you to believe.

A few years ago, the creators of the FICO credit scoring system announced they would stop including authorized users in the latest version of their FICO scoring model (at the time dubbed FICO 08), which would effectively put an end to what they saw as a deceptive practice and manipulation of the system. They later reversed their decision after  consumer advocates observed that FICO 08 could unfairly impact women and/or stay-at-home spouses, and lenders’ concerns that using the new model would impede their compliance under Regulation B—which requires lenders to consider credit histories on accounts shared by spouses when assessing a married person’s credit risk. (The CARD Act received a similar backlash for discriminating against women earlier this year for mandating that credit card issuers “consider information regarding the consumer’s independent income, rather than his or her household income” before approving a new card or credit limit increase under the new law.)

[Related article: Is the Fed's New Credit Card Rule Sexist?]

FICO’s change of heart was a welcome relief for many lenders and consumers alike, but the scoring giant was determined to put an end to growing number of credit repair clinics exploiting the loophole to trick the system. FICO’s solution? In traditional FICO style, keeping a tight lid on the secret to their proprietary special sauce, the company announced that their staff of analytic scientists had found a way to include legitimate authorized users in the FICO 08 model while weeding out the illegitimate authorized user accounts of piggybackers.

How Do They Do It?

Legitimate authorized users include spouses, parents and children; anyone who would have a legitimate relationship with the primary account holder and a reason to share access on their account. While FICO won’t release the details on how they determine a legitimate authorized user versus a piggybacker, it’s not difficult for consumers themselves to come up with a few theories on how they weed them out. Given that FICO scores only consider information reported in your credit reports, they’re able to pinpoint whether or not the authorized user has a genuine relationship with the primary account holder. Maybe they evaluate and take into account the last names of the authorized user and the primary account holder, maybe they factor in previous and current addresses, or even possible flags that exclude cards with more than a certain number of authorized users—or  possibly a combination of all the above. The last would catch the accounts that are hosting 5, 10, or even a 100 authorized users—which was actually taking place during the piggybacking heyday. The point is, you don’t have to be an analytic scientist or even know exactly ‘how’ they do it, just understanding from a very basic observation level that credit report data does give tell tale signs of piggybacking, it wouldn’t be extremely difficult to weed out the folks trying to game the system.

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So why are we still talking about piggybacking several years after the fact? Two reasons. One, we’ve recently seen an influx of comments and questions about piggybacking services here on Credit.com’s blog, along with several credit repair companies claiming that piggybacking still works. This means that whether or not piggybacking is working, there are companies still selling the idea to consumers looking for a quick fix. Second, Credit.com recently reported on the the implementation of FICO 08 by mainstream lenders.

According to FICO, FICO 8 is being used by more than 3,500 lenders and many more are in the process of adopting or completing their evaluation of the score. As far as big banks go, we know that Citi recently announced their adoption of FICO 8, and BofA is currently in the process of implementing the new, more predictive model. A vast majority of loans are conducted by the major banks but at this point, it’s unclear exactly which major banks are using the newer version because Citi and BofA are the only two to publicly share the details. And we may never know simply because banks typically do not actively share this information with the public.

While the adoption rate of FICO 8 may appear to be a slow process from a consumer perspective, it’s actually one of the quickest adoption rates in the history of the FICO scoring model. According to Craig Watts, public affairs director at FICO, “The lender adoption rate for FICO 8 Score has been faster than the adoption rate of any previously redeveloped FICO credit scoring model since the score was introduced in 1989.  That’s particularly impressive now, during the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

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So what does this tell us? It means that even though banks and lenders are gradually adopting the new model, there is a possibility that your lender has not yet migrated to the new score and may be using the previous version of the FICO model when making their lending decisions. And since the previous model doesn’t include the piggybacking fix, many consumers have no way of knowing whether or not this loophole strategy of gaming the system is even an option for them.

So, to reiterate, in answer to the question: Piggybacking to boost FICO scores: Does it still work? It does if the lender isn’t using the latest model—FICO 8.

Before you rush off to sign up for a quick FICO fix, here’s a little food for thought: Even if you sign up with one of these companies and fork out a few thousand dollars in an attempt to beat the system, it’s not a guarantee that the lender you’re applying to isn’t using the latest FICO model. Your best bet? Do it the right way. Instead of trying to beat the system, earn it. It’ll make all the difference in the world in the opportunities and options that open up simply by having the perks that having excellent credit affords.

Have you recently signed up with a piggybacking service? What did it cost you? Did it work? Share your story in the comments section below.

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Image: Theyoungones1994, via Flickr.com

[Author note: This article was updated to address the speed of implementation and adoption rate of the latest FICO 8 scoring model-- 10.7.11]

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  • Joseph V

    I have been using the piggybacking method to help my mortgage clients get a boost to their credit scores for several years, now. I started doing it with my own cards, but was worried about the potential conflict of interest. So I went Googling, and came came accross a company, boostmyscore.net. I refer my clients to them, and there is no more conflict. Perfect. In 4 years of working with this company, I have never had a single complaint, concern, or hiccup. I have since been able to carve out a nice little niche and have surfed through a recession that has been drowning my former competition. I couldn’t care less if the credit cards companies start using the new FICO model…as long as Fanny and Freddie don’t approve it, my business will continue to flourish.

    • Dee

      I want to buy a foreclosure house soon please help!

  • Joseph V

    Ok, so let’s try this again. Apparently web addresses for outside companies are not allowed in this forum. I have been working with a company who sells AU accounts for the last three years. I was adding my mortgage clients to my own personal cards, but was always worried about a conflict of interest. I went googling for a credit pickybacking company and came accross this company, called them, spoke with the owner directly, and haven’t looked back. I haven’t ever had an issue, concern, or hiccup. They can be found if you Google Boost My Score. Also, who cares if Citi uses the newish FICO 8? Until Fannie/Freddie approve the model, there isn’t a mortgage lender out there who will even consider touching it.

  • http://www.boostmyscore.net Tommy

    Dear Readers,
    I have been working for a piggybacking company for nearly 3 years now and I am extremely proud of how we help our clients. This is the best job in the world where I can believe in what I sell, because we actually provide our clients with a valuable service that they desperately want and need. During times like these, and in a world like FICO’s, that is a rare thing. It surprises me to see that FICO is still harping on their concern over this.
    According to FICO testimony to Congress in August 2008, the public outcry had nothing to do with their reversal of the decision to alter their scoring model. Since when does a B to B (business) company care about C (consumers)? It was entirely the result of the Fed and the FTC telling them that their banking clients would be in violation of ECOA, Reg B if they launched it. Reg B clearly states that a lender is required to consider all tradelines present in an applicant’s credit report. If the lender is using a scoring model that ignores AU’s, then they are in violation of Reg B. Period. Whether or not FICO has a political agenda and feels that the applicant has “legitimate or illegitimate” AU accounts in their credit report has absolutely no bearing on what Reg B requires of lenders.
    If Citi is actually using FICO 8, and FICO 8, in anyway discredits tradelines when it scores Citibank’s credit reports, then they are violating the law. There is no doubt that a class action law suit against Citi is coming in very short order. Hmm…I wonder if a jury of our peers would side with a bank – particularly Citi – during this day and age…

  • Jules Anonymous

    I actually signed up with one of these companies. Yes, I needed a quick fix, but I wanted to strengthen my credit. You say don’t try and beat the system? C’mon, the system is not in place to make things convenient for the consumer. Ask those people who are victims of credit fraud.

    The company I use was able to increase my score within a matter of a couple weeks and I was able to get the loan I need to help my mother. Do what works for you people and forget about those who tell you to play by the book. I know a handful of people who played by the book ALL their lives only to loose EVERTHING they worked for to those who were greedy or self serving.

    • Dee

      How do get a hold of your company you used.

    • sylviag

      Jules, I can’t agree more with you.. I’m a victim of credit fraud and identity fraud and to top it off I’ve had family tragedies like divorce, death etc.. which only made it worse for me and found myself having to file for BK.. Would you mind sharing the company name that helped you out?? I desperately need help but I’m afraid to use them from all the negative comments I hear/read. Thanks so much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567753528 HMax_Sol

    I remember there was so much talk about the end of piggybacking it is interesting to see banks are taking so long to adopt the new system. I wonder are they afraid they may lose money if they adopt the FICO 8 scoring model? I read a little about on their website: http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/questions/fico8.aspx but your article really explains it much better. Thanks!

  • factchecker

    The author is Surprisingly misinformed, given that regulation B requires reporting, there is no way a scoring agency can selectively post to comply, vantagescore didn’t report at all
    given the argument that information was not available to indicate a spouse , you could be a spouse with a different name and address, and likely the address will be listed.

    A great suggestion is hard to come by, limit the amount an Au can increase your score, or only allow it to boost your score if your credit is already fair which could Fico’s route,
    certain mortgage lenders will not consider AU accounts, advice is then help yourself.

  • haircraze2000

    Jules Anonymous— I don’t know who you used, but after 7 years of credit fraud, letters to credit bureaus, mortgages companies, and contradicting suggestions on credit fixes; my husbands retiring after 20 years and 5 tours in to Iraqi and we can’t get our scores up enough to buy a house. That’s after we’ve gotten every single thing deleted off or PAID. We’ve even done their so called FICO RESCORE. I’ve HAD IT… Whatever you have to do, to get what you need for your family–DO IT… We tried fixing our credit the right way with police report and affidavits, letter, doing every thing the mortgage companies told us to do and $35,000 later — we have no house, and no money for a house. Congratulation to you. We will have our season too.

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  • http://N/A Jason

    Credit.com is abviously a legitimate source, but this article is slightly mistaken. I have done a ton of research on piggybacking and I believe (based on my research), FICO ’08 would have forced the banks to break the law, and as a result, they decided NOT to discount piggybacking. A great source, although they sell the service, is Piggybacking FAQs

    I hope this helps!

    Thanks,

    Jason

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  • jessie

    Asking jules anonymous what service used for such a quick response.

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