While great credit scores long have been a given for the well-to-do clients of financial advisors, the real estate bust is leading to a growing number of credit score surprises.
Jeff Rose, a Carbondale, Ill., fee-based CFP licensee, whose clients typically exhibit the Midwest ethic of avoiding credit, recently had a couple with ample retirement savings but no credit history rejected for a loan. Reason: Their lack of credit reduced their credit scores.
Another client's loan interest rate, thanks to a credit score, was a shocker-much higher than expected. And Rose recently helped obtain a secured credit card for a young client getting ready to graduate from college. The student was astounded to discover that although he faithfully obeyed his parents' warnings to avoid credit card debt and he never had a loan delinquency, his credit score was a piddling 570. The top score, by Minneapolis-based Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO), by contrast, is typically 850. "He was blown away!" Rose says.
For Marie DeCaprio, a fee-only financial advisor in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., the lousy real estate market is leading clients to ask her very specific credit score questions. Generally, the clients are considering a short sale or a strategic default-choosing to walk away from a home. They want to know the impact on credit scores.
FICO scores consider short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure as "not paid as agreed" accounts. They have the same impact on a FICO score. A foreclosure can remain on a credit report for seven years, but if other credit obligations remain in good standing, the credit score can begin to rebound in as little as two years. Bankruptcy, as an alternative to foreclosure, may have a greater negative impact on a score due to the fact that it has the ability to affect multiple accounts.
For complex client credit scoring issues, DeCaprio turns to Tracy Becker, whose Tarrytown, N.Y., firm, North Shore Advisory Inc., caters to financial advisors and other professionals. Becker specializes in credit restoration, education and credit monitoring.
Take DeCaprio's client, whose mortgage soon was to convert from interest-only payments to a fully amortized loan. DeCaprio first had the client pull her credit score. Then she and her client immediately followed with a conference call to Becker. "As a financial planner, I lay out the risks to a person's financial situation from every angle," DeCaprio explains.
DeCaprio crunched the numbers to show how the payment change would affect the client, while Becker outlined the impact of a strategic default to the client's credit score. The two identified the risks of different scenarios to the client, but were careful to leave the final decision to the client.
Joel Isaacson, a New York CFP and CPA, says he turned to Becker for a credit monitoring service for clients worried about identity theft. The daily, personalized monitoring service, he says, may cost more than low-cost services offered by credit card companies, but it's offered to his clients at a reduced rate. Isaacson says he'd rather provide his clients with the personalized service of Becker's company, with just "six to ten persons," as opposed to "whoever picks up the phone in India."
Fees for Becker's service can run $400 to "thousands of dollars," depending on what the company does and how bad the client credit is. The final fee, Becker says, is charged only after her success. It may cost $450 to remove one negative item from the reports of the three major credit bureaus-TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, she says. Typically, it's $150 per credit bureau. But correcting multiple problems can add up.