Deconstructing My Credit Score After 0% APR Credit Card Arbitrage

by golbguru on March 13, 2007

I mentioned in an earlier post that, about six months ago, I involved myself in some 0% APR credit card arbitrage. Here, I will document a few things about my current credit score (as compared to my score before the arbitrage), that may interest some of you. If you don’t know what I am talking about, and/or if you haven’t heard about “0% APR credit card arbitrage” or “0% APR balance transfers” before, you must read this primer: How to Make Money from 0% APR Balance Transfers @ My Money Blog.

Before you start drawing conclusions from the numbers and charts below, here are some background facts about my credit that warrant consideration:

  • Ratio of credit card balances to available credit limit (credit utilization) before arbitrage: ~ 2%
  • Credit utilization after arbitrage: 23%
  • Length of my credit history: 5 years
  • Cards used in 0% APR arbitrage: 2
  • Number of open credit cards on record: 9 (click here to read about how I manage them)
  • Credit score before 0% APR arbitrage: 771 (click here to read more about this). This score was based on 9 open credit card accounts, but the 0% APR balance was not yet reflected in the score…so essentially, it gives a good reference for comparison.

Current credit score

current credit score

transunion%20credit%20score apr

This score may not be reflecting the worst situation after the arbitrage. Right after I availed the 0% APR offers, I was using about 26% of the available credit. The credit score must have been lower at that time. Since then, I have made a few minimum payments towards both the cards, which must have improved my score a bit. Based on the situation, it is fair to say that almost the entire drop in the score can be attributed to the increase in credit utilization (from 2% to 23%). Anyways, 737 is not too bad. :)

What does this credit score mean to me?

Here is a table that myFICO drew for me.

credit score interest rates

Obviously, lower FICO scores will mean higher interest rates (in most cases). But, at present, this is OK for me because I am not looking at any big loans in the near future. However, for someone who is looking for a 30 year mortgage, this drop in the credit score may make a huge difference. For example, if you get a 30 year, $200,000 mortgage at 5.99% instead of 5.77% , you will end up paying about $10,000 more (over a period of 30 years) than what you would have paid if your interest rate was 5.77%. So be careful about the timing of your arbitrage if you are looking to borrow large amounts soon. As a rule of thumb, I would suggest a period of at least 2 years of “no credit card balances” before you go in for borrowing something big.

What may have affected my score?

The score report mentions these as negative factors towards my credit score.

The proportion of balances to credit limits (high credit) on your revolving accounts is 23%. The average proportion of balances to credit limits (high credit) on revolving/charge accounts carried by U.S. consumers is around 36%.

According to your credit profile, you have 4 accounts where your balances last reported are greater than $0. On average, U.S consumers carry balances on approximately 4 of their credit accounts at a given time.

Of the 4 accounts, 2 were carrying the 0% APR balances and the other 2 carried a purchase balance at the instant of time that my credit report was pulled up for score calculation. Eventually, as I keep paying off the borrowed *free money*, both these factors will change for good and improve my score.

What does this score mean to lenders?

For lenders, here is how the FICO score relates to the risk of lending money to me.

credit score and risk

Seems like I am not that bad after all, although I have jumped from a 2% risk level to a 5% risk level in the process of utilizing the 0% APR balance transfer offers.

The mathematically curious/observant/astute will appreciate the fact that this chart almost follows a sigmoid function (I used this function earlier in this post). For others, it will be sufficient to say that if your credit score is very high or very low, a change in your credit score will have smaller effects on how lenders perceive the risks associated with your credit. When I say “smaller”, I am comparing it with a situation in which you credit score is *medium* (say between 500 and 700). People with credit scores around this range should be extremely cautious of things (including 0% APR credit card arbitrages) that may damage their scores. For example, I might be digging a ditch for myself if I indulge in another big 0% APR arbitrage transaction at this point of time - when my score is 737 (most likely that will throw me in the 14% risk group)

So that’s about it. In conclusion, I am pretty much OK with the changes that the 0% APR arbitrage has caused to my credit (as compared to the free money that I am earning with the borrowed amounts). This sort of encourages me to do something similar this year too. Although, I would wait till my score bumps up a little bit (comes near 770 again).

Before I conclude this post, I would like to offer a word of caution here if you try to compare your situation with some of the data presented in this post. The numbers above give a fair idea of what’s happening to one’s credit situation, and yet they are just a little more than *handwaving*. Mortgage rates (or any other loan rates) depend on a lot of other factors, in addition to credit scores, so keep that in your mind before jumping to conclusions.

Feel free to drop a line or two about any interesting observations or perceptions (either from the above writeup or from anywhere else) that you may have about 0% APR arbitrage issues.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jonathan 03.13.07 at 8:58 am

Did you have to pay for that FICO score, or did you find a way to get it for free? I hate paying for scores, it’s almost a principles issue :)

BTW, I added you to my blogroll earlier. Keep up the good articles. For some reason I always read golbguru as goldguru and I thought you were another blogger!

2 golbguru 03.13.07 at 9:46 am

Jonathan: As much as I hate to admit it, I paid for it. But it cost me only $3.94. I got the myFICO Identity Theft package which bills $4.95 a month (I will cancel it before the first month). Plus, myFICO is running a promotion with this code: 6YEAR
That code will give you 20% off on any product on their website.

This post might be of help: Some Pointers For Getting FICO Scores For Cheap

3 Gaming the Credit System 03.13.07 at 11:10 am

Sweet! Thanks for posting this analysis. It is always good to have more points of reference to refine our models of the FICO score. I will link to this post from my blog, as it’s a perfect example of the thing I’m trying to do.

4 Ambellamy 03.14.07 at 5:56 am

My friend heather has no credit… and bought a car (to get credit… and cause she needed a new one…)

her rate 24% INTEREST

when i got my car with not much credit but some from having a cellphone bill paid on time and a small student CC…. 8.25% INTEREST

nuff said.

5 invincible 03.14.07 at 6:08 am

737 is quite good. 771 is always better though.

As u’d mentioned, unless u r in immediate need of a loan, the interest that u earn on ‘free’ money clearly offsets a small trough on the credit score, if u already have a high enough score.

6 invincible 03.14.07 at 6:39 am

and i forgot !
nice analysis.

7 nku 03.14.07 at 10:17 am

Good one golbguru. That is a big shift in scores after the balance transfers. So one needs to be careful if one is somewhere on the boundary in fn_Sigmoid. Thanks for the analysis.

8 Jon 03.14.07 at 8:22 pm

I’m glad you posted your new score. I was curious to see what would happen to your score when you began doing the balance transfers. I guess this worked out OK for you if you are not planing to borrow big chunks of cash in the near future.

9 golbguru 03.14.07 at 9:04 pm

Gaming the Credit System: I was almost sure you would be interested in this. Btw, you have some equally important information on your website. That’s always an inspiration :)

Ambellamy: 24% APR…woah! that will push someone in the hole right away. How is your friend coping up with that kind of interest rate? It will be interesting to know how such people tackle their monthly payments.

Invincible, Nku, and Jon: I did not explicitly state the purpose of all the data in the post. There is a lot of mud-throwing on their side of this story. People (including me) either love the arbitrage concept or absolutely hate it…in all this, the facts don’t get too much attention. Hopefully, this will remind some of us into thinking about the pros and cons that are associated with the arbitrage.

10 Francis 03.15.07 at 2:29 am

Why do you suggest to wait at least 2 years of carrying no credit card balances to apply for a loan? Isn’t that excessive? I would imagine your score would jump right back up to 770+ after only a couple of months.

11 golbguru 03.15.07 at 3:19 am

Francis: A simple answer would be that I was being very conservative when I said 2 years. There are many reasons for that; for example, there is a time lag between a financial transaction and the time when it reflects in the credit report. I have no idea how much that lag is. Also, there is a concept of “average account age”, so even if you pay off all the balance…if you had applied for newer cards for the 0% APR offers, you average age will be a bit lower (that depends on other factors like how many cards you have and what is their average age,etc). How these things are calculated, no one knows except FICO.

Also, the newer cards will keep *active inquiries* on the report (unless there was no inquiry initiated in the first place) and that carries some potential of pulling your score down.

So to account all these (and some other factors that I may not be knowing) I just gave a very conservative figure.

The *correct* time, technically, is whenever your score reaches the value that will be looked upon with respect by the lender…so if you check your score regularly after paying off the balances, you will be able to figure that out pretty easily. :) That 2 year figure is just hand-waving to be on the safer side.

12 plonkee 03.15.07 at 4:40 am

Just for information, according to blog UK Money Pot* when you do credit card arbitrage in the UK, it affects your score differently. This is because having too much credit available counts against you.

*Sorry, haven’t worked out how to put links in comments yet.

13 The Digerati Life 03.15.07 at 7:49 am

I have never done arbitrage before so I probably can’t add anything here :). However, I must commend you on the quality of your post! I’ve definitely learned something new here though I probably won’t be trying it out. I’m pretty debt averse….

14 Lee 06.25.07 at 1:25 pm

Hi, Thanks for the great post. just curious about how quickly the credit score will reflect your 0% APR BT? The reason I’m asking is that I’m closing a house in one month but I need money for closing. I’m thinking of doing a 0%APR BT 20 days before the closing date. The interest rate is locked but I don’t know if they will review my credit score again before closing and change the rate if my score goes down too much! Any comment? Thanks!

15 Frank Bruno 07.24.07 at 1:04 pm

I hope this article helps your clients who need to quickly raise their credit scores for the loan approval process or for the best possible interest rates.

How Credit Expert Frank Bruno Raised His Credit Score 40 Points in 24hrs.

Also your clients may be interested in watching Free Credit Tip Videos here

16 Keith 12.19.07 at 9:26 am

I’ve been trying to find the answer to the following question, maybe you can help. Is there any downside to adding additional credit cards or other lines of credit solely for the purpose of driving down my credit utilization ratio? Of course this assumes I don’t use the credit to over extend etc, but overall, are there any negative impacts to my credit for having additional accounts with little or no balance?

17 Lupe Valdes 03.27.08 at 11:33 am

Question: If I transfer credit card account to another credit card but with one year 0% interest, i want to know if my credit card damage?

18 Roy 07.06.09 at 10:55 pm

I have a similar credit score but no credit cards. My question is will the advantage of having credit cards increase my credit score more than the hard inquiries will lower it? I am thinking of getting three cards. I would like to have the highest score possible in nine months when I apply for a home loan. Thanks for any input

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20 Estate Agents in Enfield 10.19.12 at 7:15 am

cradit score should be normal high acording to thye rules and regulations and risk must be average

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