I received an excellent question today via my Facebook page regarding American Express cards.
“John – How’s it going? I’m a credit score junkie and one of the areas that has confused me is how American Express cards are treated by FICO scores. I’ve seen information on the web that is in direct conflict so I have to assume neither is correct. Can you clear it up?”
A: American Express issues a variety of plastic cards but they all fall neatly into one of two categories: charge cards and credit cards. If you’ve got an American Express credit card that has revolving terms (meaning you do not have to pay the balance in full each month) and it’s being reported to the credit bureaus as a revolving account then it’s being treated as a credit card, plain and simple.
That means the card is being considered for the infamous debt to limit utilization percentage, often called revolving utilization IF…
1) The card has a credit limit being reported. In the absence of a credit limit a historical high balance must be reported
2) The card is not listed as being closed. The exception here is if the card is listed as being closed BUT it still has a balance AND a credit limit or historical high balance.
The second type of card American Express issues is a charge card. A charge card looks exactly like a credit card but does not have revolving terms. The card does not have a published credit limit and any balance must be paid in full by the due date. Most of these cards have annual fees to help make up for the lack of interest income.
Charge cards ARE treated like credit cards by FICO scores, which means they are considered when FICO calculates revolving utilization, but only under the following circumstances:
1) The version of the FICO score is any version prior to FICO 8.
2) The charge card has a credit limit being reported. In absence of a credit limit the high balance must be reported
3) The card is not listed as closed. The exception is if the card has a balance AND a credit limit or high balance being reported.
Charge cards ARE NOT treated like credit cards by FICO scores if the FICO model being used to score the credit report is FICO 8.
As with most questions having to do with FICO scores, the answer is never as simple as “yes” or “no.”
Credit Reporting Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. Follow him on Twitter here.