Robbing Peter to pay Paul will now negatively effect your FICO score.

Personal loans are growing faster than any other consumer debt category; Americans owe more than $300 billion on them. There are all kinds of personal loan offers in the mail, online and on TV. Many promise to lower your interest rate by consolidating credit card debt into a single loan.

For the first time, Gaskin says, FICO is breaking out personal loans as a distinct category to determine whether borrowers use them responsibly.

Why does that matter?

Let’s say you pay off all your credit cards with a personal loan. Under the old system, your credit score might go up. But under the new approach, FICO will look back over a period of time — as far as two years — to see whether you’ve used the loan to reduce your high-interest credit card debt or whether you’re using plastic as much as before, running up new revolving balances and falling deeper into debt.

“What we find is that potentially that consumer’s credit file carries more risk than what was apparent,” Gaskin says.

Every five years or so, FICO updates the way it determines credit scores. This time, the biggest change is in how it treats personal loans, Gaskin says.

Sherry Ellis