Credit score talk is all over the place these days, from online forums to the office break room. That’s because your credit score affects just about every aspect of your life: your ability to get a mortgage, qualify for a car loan, or rent an apartment.
In some cases, potential employers will even check your credit score to see how responsible you are, meaning your credit score can even affect whether or not you’re picked for your dream job.
With all this competition for credit, housing, and even jobs, it’s natural to wonder how your own credit score compares to everyone else’s. We’ve got the inside scoop on how you stack up in the wild world of credit. Ready to find out?
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Putting Credit into Context
Credit scores are most frequently crafted by a company called FICO, which uses the information in your credit report to create a numerical representation of your creditworthiness.
Lenders and creditors use this information to determine how likely you are to repay borrowed funds. Then, they decide whether or not to approve your application, and what kind of interest they want to charge you.
Since someone with a lower credit score is deemed less likely to repay the loan, they’ll receive a higher interest rate as extra insurance to the lender in case the loan defaults.
FICO scores range from 300 to 850, with 850 being the highest score possible. Here’s how those scores break down into rating categories:
Credit Score Rating Categories
- Excellent: 750 and above
- Good: 700-749
- Fair: 650-699
- Poor: 600-649
- Bad: under 600
Now that you understand the basics of credit scores, are you ready for the big reveal?
The average American’s credit score has reached 704.
If you look at the scoring chart above, you’ll see that a score of 704 falls just within the “good” rating. That’s definitely on the rise as the economy continues to strengthen.
So what does it mean to have a 704 credit score?
Since this score falls within the “good” category, you can do quite a bit in terms of loans. An FHA home loan, for example, only requires a score of 580 to qualify and take advantage of the program’s 3.5% down payment.
If you still qualify for the loan buy your score falls below that number, you’ll need to put down 10% of the loan price at the time of closing. For conventional loans, lenders usually require a minimum score of 660. So if your credit score is close to the average American’s, your mortgage prospects look promising.
Getting approved for a car loan typically requires a score in the low- to mid-600s, although it’s not unheard of for someone in the mid-500s to get approved. It depends on the lender and of course, the lower your credit score, the higher your interest rate will be.
Be careful with your credit applications, though. Each new inquiry for a credit card or loan type can dock your score anywhere between 5 and 10 points. That drop lasts for a year and the inquiry itself is listed on your credit report for two years.
If your score is just above 700, you could quickly dip back into the “fair” category and receive a higher interest rate offer on your next financial product. Bottom line: only apply for credit if you need it. If you’re looking for a loan, do all of your rate shopping within a few weeks and you’ll only have a single inquiry impact your credit score.
See also: What Is a Fair Credit Score?
Does Location Matter?
It takes a lot to maintain a high credit score, including low amounts of debt and on-time payments, just to name a few things. But one influencing factor might surprise you: where you live. A 2018 study by LendEDU found the states with the best and the worst credit scores from Vantage, a credit scoring system formed by the three major credit unions.
It makes sense; after all, where you live affects how much you earn and how expensive your cost of living is. One striking thing is that not just particular states, but entire regions, tend to have similar credit characteristics. Could your geographic location be affecting your credit score?
Many Midwestern states, for example, have the highest credit scores in the country. Minnesota tops the list with an average score of 722. At $71,920, the median household income is above the national average of $61,372, but Minnesotans tend not to spend beyond their means.
Balances on credit card debt, mortgages, and auto loans are all below average in this state, and in several other midwestern areas. Debt delinquencies are also low, giving many people a credit score boost across the state.
Mississippi, along with several other southern states, ranks lowest in the nation for credit with an average score of just 648. In fact, based on the ranges above, that is considered poor credit.
States with lower credit scores also tend to have higher debt balances and delinquency rates. That makes sense because both of those factors contribute to lower credit scores.
Don’t worry if you live in a state with lower credit averages, or if you’re in a high credit state but still have a low score. You can boost your own score by taking a number of basic, strategic steps.
It might take a little time and effort, but if you persevere, you’ll soon start to see a noticeable difference in your credit score.
Then, you’ll be able to pat yourself on the back for having above-average credit in both your state and the nation. Even better than that? You’ll start getting better offers on interest rates and other loan terms.
Tips for Boosting Your Score
Now that you know how your credit score compares to those of other Americans, it’s time to break out the competitive spirit and raise your score.
To become eligible for the very best credit cards, loans, and mortgages, you’ll need a credit score of 740 or above. That’s right at the top of the “good” category, just ten points shy of “excellent.” So how can you do it? Here are a few simple tips.
Pay your bills on time.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but a 2018 study showed that 25% of Americans don’t consistently pay their bills on time. Why is that an issue? Your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score, so every time you become delinquent on a payment, you’re lowering your credit score.
Just how much your score is lowered depends on several personal factors, like how late you paid and how often you tend to miss payments. Obviously, if you are a regular offender, your score will suffer more.
Pay down your debt.
Most people carry some sort of debt these days, whether it be a mortgage, outstanding credit card balances, or some type of personal loan. But paying down your debt, particularly on high interest balances outside of your mortgage, can go a long way in helping out your credit score.
That’s because you’re penalized for owing too much money compared to the amount of credit you have access to, which is measured by your credit utilization ratio. Plus, by paying off credit cards and high interest loans early, you’ll save yourself countless dollars in interest payments.
Double check your credit report.
Did you know that according to the FTC, 25% of Americans have mistakes on their credit reports that have the potential to affect their credit scores? At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to make sure everything on your credit report is complete and accurate.
Order a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year. After all, it’s both your right and your responsibility.
When Do You Need Professional Help?
If you notice that your credit score is well below the American average of 704, or you’re constantly facing roadblocks to your financial goals because of your credit, it might be time to get help from a professional.
Experian states that 30% of Americans have lower than a 601, placing them in the “bad” rating category. In this situation, you might want to consider monitoring your credit score as you begin to make financial improvements.
Remember that even though your credit reports are free every 12 months, your credit score is not included. It’s a separate calculation that is requested when your credit is pulled by third parties such as lenders and creditors.
There are several monitoring services if you’d like to check out your score on a regular basis, or you can pay a one-time fee to FICO to access your score.
For consumers who still need help getting that number up closer to the national average, a respected credit repair company can be a good resource in getting outdated and incorrect items removed from your credit report.
You can certainly go down that road on your own, but a professional company knows all of the laws and regulations to make sure your interests are fully represented.
Plus, dealing with creditors and credit bureaus can feel like a full-time job, and you probably already have one of those. It’s often a wise choice to work with a professional for the fastest, most comprehensive results.
No matter where your credit score lays in comparison to everyone else’s, just remember that “personal finance” is called that for a reason: each individual has personal reasons for spending and saving money as they do.
As long as you do your best to stay on top of your money and employ smart strategies to boost your score, you could see positive results in as little as 30 days. And that’s something worth bragging about.