Baltimore Study: Credit Scores

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030420-WP-Credit Scores-García-Pérez Gaither and Darity

Mónica García-Pérez, St. Cloud State University
Sarah Gaither, Duke University
William Darity Jr., Duke University


The Baltimore Project Phase II

This report builds upon the original Baltimore study by including credit score questions to the survey instrument conducted on the Phase I sample. In Phase II, we aimed to contact the participants who responded to the Baltimore telephone interview and to request their FICO credit score. The new survey questionnaire added six short questions related to the respondent’s education. This report focuses on the provided FICO credit scores and their connection to indicators of wealth among four different groups of households: never-incarcerated white households (NIW), those in houses without an incarceration history identified as white; never-incarcerated black households (NIB), those in houses without an incarceration history identified as black; ever-incarcerated white households (EIW), those in houses with an incarceration history identified as white; and ever-incarcerated black households (EIB), those in houses with an incarceration history identified as black. The sample size is 51 respondents, which includes five respondents without a credit history.

To account for response bias, this report uses respondents’ information from Phase I (demographics, income levels, respondent’s openness, and self-reported financial status) to estimate their likelihood to respond to Phase II questions. At a base level, there appears to be a connection between credit scores, race, and incarceration history:

  • Individuals in black households with an ever-incarcerated member had the lowest average and median FICO credit scores. Their scores were about 219 points lower than those of white individuals in households with no incarceration history. By group, the average FICO scores were 791 (NIW), 698 (NIB), 621 (EIW), and 573 (EIB).
  • Most individuals have a checking account, and the variation across liquid assets is mainly connected to holding a savings account. The EIW group had the lowest likelihood of having a savings account.
  • The prior expectation was that individuals with higher credit scores would be more likely to have tangible assets such as a home or a car. However, across black individuals and ever-incarcerated individuals, we do not identify a significant change in the average FICO score when it is only estimated among individuals with tangible assets.
  • Despite their having more assets and less debt, never-incarcerated blacks possess similar average FICO credit scores to ever-incarcerated whites. This difference is 77 points on average, or less than half the difference between never-incarcerated and ever-incarcerated whites (170 points). Conversely, the difference in average credit score between blacks never-incarcerated and ever-incarcerated is 125 points.
  • FICO credit scores appear to segment by group. Never-incarcerated white households are concentrated around higher asset holdings and higher FICO credit scores while ever-incarcerated black households are concentrated around lower asset holdings and lower FICO credit scores.


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