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FICO is one of the best known names in the credit industry — it’s practically synonymous with credit scoring, despite the existence of hundreds of other scoring models. The first general-purpose credit score (Beacon at Equifax) came from FICO in 1989, effectively transforming the consumer lending landscape to heavily incorporate predictive analytics.

Anyone who has applied for a loan or credit card is probably aware of how important this is. Your credit score could be the difference between approval and denial or low or high interest rates on a loan.

When consumers hear the full name of FICO — Fair Isaac Corp. — they often think “who is this Fair Isaac that has so much control over my financial life?” In fact, Fair Isaac isn’t a man at all  — it’s two men.

The Friendship Between Fair and Isaac

In 1956, Bill Fair and Earl Isaac formed Fair, Isaac and Co., which later became known as Fair Isaac Corp., and eventually, FICO. The idea, according to FICO’s website, was that “data, used intelligently, can improve business decisions.”

Given the success of FICO, they were right.

That isn’t to say credit scores are perfect. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and FICO’s team, like other credit scoring companies, is always working to improve its algorithms to better predict consumer behavior.

According to “The Deciding Factor: The Power of Analytics to Make Every Decision a Winner” by Larry E. Rosenberger, John Nash and Ann Graham, it all goes back to the Stanford Research Institute, where Fair and Isaac met in 1953 as operations research scientists working on decisions management for the military. Fair was an engineer, Isaac a mathematician.

Fair started SRI’s first nonmilitary operations research team, which he asked Isaac to join, and the two went out on their own shortly thereafter. With $800 ($400 each), they started Fair, Isaac and Co. in 1956, the first of many years they spent developing credit scoring for a variety of businesses and banks around the world.

What Fair & Isaac Did for You

Depending on your feelings toward credit scoring, the last few paragraphs have either endeared them to you to you or made you dislike Mr. Fair and Mr. Isaac. You’re entitled to your opinion.

Even though credit scores are constantly looking to improve and change as consumer behaviors do, scores have helped consumers better understand their chances of getting a loan and how much it will cost them.

There are lots of tools out there to help you understand the importance of your credit scores. FICO, for example, has partnered with a few credit card issuers to give customers their FICO scores for free. This program, FICO Open Access, also tells these credit card holders which of their behaviors have the greatest impact on their scores.

If you’re looking to better understand your credit standing and make an effort to improve it, you can see two of your scores for free, review your best (and worst) credit habits and make a plan for getting better scores on Credit.com.

Credit scores quantify the raw information from your credit reports. While it’s important to review your credit reports (which you can do for free once a year), it can be tricky to understand if the information on it makes you look like a good or bad credit risk. With a credit score, you can easily understand where you fall: A high score is good, a low one is bad, and there are plenty of things you can do to change your number.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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