On February 11 2021, a tidbit of information about credit scores being introduced in 1989 spread on at least three places (a tweet, a Reddit post, and a Facebook post), indicating strong interest in the claim.
That day, @sleepisocialist tweeted:
Also on February 11 2021, a screenshot of the tweet above was shared to r/WhitePeopleTwitter:
The portion visible in the screenshot (the post was later edited with additional commentary) read:
I’m sorry, why did nobody teach me that credit scores weren’t officially introduced in the US until NINETEEN EIGHTY NINE ???! The “boomers don’t understand what millennials have gone through financially” thing is tired but Y’ALL REALLY were out here chastising younger generations for being financially irresponsible after you bought your houses and cars without credit scores ?! And creditworthiness was previously determined based on character judgement, which is obviously going to skew toward white men?? I don’t want to learn one more thing in my life ever again, I’ve heard enough.
Even with significantly lower traction, the post’s ensuing edits appeared to show that the original poster was subjected to a number of unwanted messages as discourse moved across social platforms:
Edit: Oh boy, I was just tryna bitch about not knowing our three number FICO scores weren’t officially implemented until 1989. Wasn’t prepared for the masses to consume this. Credit has a nuanced history beyond FICO scores I’d encourage you to research. Back in the day your (not universal) creditworthiness was determined somewhat haphazardly and absolutely subjectively, typically by some dude at your local bank which was, of course, influenced by a patriarchal racialized society.
Edit 2: Can all the bitter old bitches stop messaging me??? ???? I very clearly acknowledged I was specifically talking about when FICO scores were officially implemented, after flopping for several decades. FICO scores are harmful because they prey on and reinforce generational inequality often found in disenfranchised black communities and necessitate accruing debt in order to have a good credit score, solely so banks can profit off of you. I do not need your tale of how your creditworthiness was determined in the ‘60s sent in an attempt to argue with like very accessible facts about the implementation of FICO scores. Obviously big banks have never been working for the people. (But if you’re not mad at me and wanna tell me about it, that’s cool and I’m v interested and have questions.????)
In February 2020, we addressed the origin of FICO scores and credit scores in part, noting that it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that Americans became aware of their existence. Access to one’s own credit score came not long after that:
In that fact check, we touched upon the inherent secrecy of FICO scores and the factors affecting them:
Yet another element likely driving interest in the Twitter thread about kids as authorized users and credit scores of 800 was that by their nature, FICO and the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) remain highly secretive about their calculations of creditworthiness. Credit card blogger The Points Guy explained:
Credit scores consist of a three-digit number, usually between 300 and 850, designed to represent the likelihood that you’ll repay a loan on time. They’re also a little mysterious and that’s not an accident. The major credit-scoring companies, FICO and VantageScore, keep their formulas secret, so only a handful of people know the exact recipe that’s used to turn your credit history into a credit score.
In fact, it was only in fairly recent years that people had any access whatsoever to their own FICO scores. A 2001 article about FICO scores becoming accessible to borrowers reported that people were finally getting to see their scores — because FICO was selling their own information back to them[.]
Going by the significant traction on all four posts (individually and combined), the claim credit scores were introduced in 1989 in the United States came as a surprise to many of the people initially commenting and subsequently sharing the posts.
As for the claim, it was fairly easy to substantiate. The Fair Issac Corporation (perhaps better known as “FICO”) commemorated 25 years of their proprietary FICO scores on a 2014 page titled “Learn About The FICO® Score and its Long History”:
Introduced in 1989, the FICO® Score changed the lending landscape for good. In the days before credit scoring, people were often denied credit because there was no unbiased structure for evaluating them objectively. The system was not fair, fact-based or consistent.
Equifax, one of the three main credit bureaus (along with Experian and Transunion) maintained a “Credit through the Ages” page:
In the 1950s-60s, credit records were maintained on index cards stored in filing cabinets. In 1964, The U.S. Association of Credit Bureaus [studied] the application of computer technologies in credit reporting. Around this same time, credit application forms become standardized. In 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act is passed in the U.S., establishing a standard legal framework for credit reporting. Finally, in 1989 credit bureaus introduce credit scoring, quickly becoming a standard system to measure credit in the U.S.
This system of credit scoring remains largely unchanged. However, there are great advances in analytics and technology leading the way to improved credit decisioning. In part two of our three-part series, we’ll discuss how those advances impact credit decisioning, acquisition and account management.
An undated PBS Frontline “Secret History” mentioned the 1989 introduction of credit scores; phrasing on the page indicated it was published just prior to December 2004:
The most important item in a consumer’s financial resumé today is his or her credit score. The one most widely used is the “FICO” (Fair Isaac Corporation) score, the standard measure for credit risk. This score was developed in 1989 as a joint project by Equifax and the Minneapolis-based Fair Isaac Corporation, which provides financial services to the world’s 10 largest banks, as well as companies in more than 60 countries.
Currently, you can obtain for a fee, your FICO score at myfico.com.
However, starting December 1, 2004 consumers living in the western U.S. will have the right to order a free copy of their credit report under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). FACTA, which was enacted on December 4, 2003, amends the FCRA and requires, among other things, that the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) – Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union – provide to consumers, upon request, a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months.
While readers were surprised by the posts, the claim was accurate per FICO. Clearly, mortgages, car loans, and credit cards were used and obtained prior to 1989, but the determination of creditworthiness was less uniform, and did not rely on FICO’s proprietary scoring model.