Lenders working overtime to evaluate credit risks

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Fair Isaac didn't start working on the idea of a quantitative credit scoring system until 1958, and didn't introduce its credit bureau scores until 1981.

That's right: banks used to lend people money without FICO scores. Instead they relied on stuff like employment history and, gasp, character. To get a loan, you used to have to meet with an officer or even a committee face to face, and they'd assess your reliability

As the foreclosure crisis has shown, relying solely on the quantitative can lead to disaster. The old-fashioned bankers might have been on to something. The Wall Street Journalreports (subscription required) that credit card issuers are now expanding their underwriting standards to include a focus on the applicant's line of work and where they live. If you work in construction in Nevada right now, you might have a tough time getting a loan.

This newfound prudence can be tough for some business owners who are seeing their lines of credit slashed for no reason other than that they're in a certain industry -- even if they happen to be faring quite well. But for most individual borrowers, I would say that a slash in your credit availability should be a warning sign that you're skating too close to the financial edge. The bank's metrics that tag you ask risky may be dead on, whether you realize it or not.

More about credit scoring:

Credit scoring myths

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