The standard credit range for the most popular credit scoring models, FICO and VantageScore, is 300-850. This range has led some people to believe that they need perfect credit to receive the best rates on lending products.
Fortunately, you don’t need a perfect credit score to receive favorable rates from lenders. Instead, you should be aiming for a credit score of at least 740 or higher. Achieving this score allows you to qualify for the lowest rates.
This article will explain why a perfect credit score isn’t necessary and how you can improve your credit if it isn’t as high as you’d like.
What is the highest credit score possible?
The highest credit score you can get is 850. Individuals with a FICO score this high have near-perfect credit management. This is why only 1.2% of consumers in the U.S. have achieved this feat.
In comparison, the average credit score in the U.S. is 704. Here is an overview of the FICO credit score ranges:
- 300-579: Very poor
- 580-699: Fair
- 670-739: Good
- 740-799: Very good
- 800-850: Exceptional
If the highest credit score of 850 sounds impossible to you, there’s no need to worry. Achieving a perfect credit score isn’t necessary or even a goal you should attempt to shoot for.
To qualify for the best rates, you just need to have a credit score in the ‘very good’ range. So while having perfect credit scores of 850 would be nice, it isn’t necessary. You should aim for a credit score of 740 or higher. However, anything above an 800 is considered ‘exceptional’ or an ‘excellent’ credit score.
Why does your credit score matter?
Your credit score is like a snapshot of how well you’ve been managing your debt. If you have high credit scores, lenders will assume that you are less of a risk of defaulting on a loan. You will qualify for the best interest rates, credit card rewards, and promotional deals.
But if your credit score is low and you have a history of not paying your bills on time, lenders will see you as more of a risk. They may still be willing to lend to you, but you’re going to pay a lot more in interest. A low credit score means you’ll end up paying more for things like your mortgage, personal loans, or auto loans.
A poor credit score can affect your life in other unexpected ways. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 47% of employers consider credit scores when making hiring decisions.
Landlords may also check your credit score before deciding whether to accept you as a tenant. So, if your score falls in one of the lower credit score ranges, it’s worth putting in the effort to raise your score.
How is my FICO score calculated?
If you’ve never actively worked on improving your credit before then, it can feel daunting when you’re just getting started. However, this process will be much easier if you understand how your FICO credit score is calculated.
FICO scores are calculated using five different categories. Each category is given a different weight in how it affects your overall rating:
- Payment history (35%): Your payment history is simply whether you pay your bills on time. This category accounts for the most substantial portion of your FICO credit score. So if you struggle with making your monthly payments on time, your FICO scores will take a hit.
- Amounts owed (30%): How much of your available credit are you currently using in comparison to your available credit? This figure is what’s known as your credit utilization ratio. If you regularly max out your credit cards and use up all of your available credit, this will be a sign to lenders that you may be over-extending yourself.
- Length of credit history (15%): Typically, a longer credit history will help you achieve a higher FICO score because the credit bureaus have more data to work with. But if your credit utilization ratio is low and you pay your bills on time, even new borrowers can achieve a high credit score.
- New credit (10%): Opening multiple credit accounts within a short period of time can negatively affect your credit. This fact is something to be mindful of whenever you’re considering taking out a new credit card.
- Credit mix (10%): Lenders and credit card companies like to see that you’ve managed different types of credit. For instance, having an auto loan, credit card, and an installment loan (like a mortgage or personal loan) will look better than just having three open credit cards.
How can I improve my credit scores?
Hopefully, by now, you can see that there is no mystery involved in improving your credit scores. There are many practical steps you can start taking right away. Listed below are five steps you can take to start improving your credit score today.
1. Remove any negative marks from your credit report
The first thing you want to do is request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Next, you should look for any inaccurate information or derogatory marks on your credit reports.
If there are any inaccuracies, you can request to have them removed from your credit report. The best way to do this is by sending a dispute letter to each credit bureau that’s reporting it. The three credit bureaus are required by law to investigate credit disputes within 30 days.
If you have any derogatory marks on your credit reports, you can also contact your lender and request a goodwill adjustment. This means that you send your lender a letter offering to pay the debt in full in exchange for them removing the marks from your credit report.
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2. Keep your credit utilization ratio low
As you can see from how your FICO score is calculated, your credit utilization rate plays a big role in your overall credit score. You should always aim to keep your credit utilization below 30% of your credit limit, but the lower, the better.
To keep a low credit utilization ratio, the obvious solution is to pay down your debts. However, you may also want to contact your credit card issuer and ask for a credit limit increase, but then don’t use the available credit.
3. Keep your credit cards active
If you’re trying to pay off credit card debt, you may be tempted to cancel your credit cards, so you don’t spend anything on them. But canceling old credit cards is pretty much always a mistake because it can hurt your credit scores.
The best thing you can do is keep those accounts open, and either don’t use them, or pay them off at the end of every month. This will help build your credit history and ensure that your credit utilization rate stays low.
4. Pay your bills on time every month
Paying your bills on time every month is a must if you want to maintain a good credit score. If you’re struggling to make on-time payments, you may need to evaluate your budget and see whether there is anything you need to cut out to make room for more cash flow. You can also consider setting up automatic payments, so you know you’re never late on a payment.
5. Use various accounts
This isn’t a huge factor in influencing your credit scores, but it’s a good idea to use various lending products. This will show lenders that you have experience paying off multiple different types of loans.
What are the benefits of a high credit score?
Having high credit scores come with many benefits, including:
- Lower interest rates: People with higher credit scores are more likely to qualify for lower interest rates when applying for a loan or credit card. This can save them a significant amount of money in interest charges over the life of the loan or credit card.
- More financing options: With a higher credit score, you’ll have access to more lending options. Banks and lenders are more likely to approve loan and credit applications from people with higher credit scores.
- Easier to obtain credit: A high credit score increases the likelihood of being approved for credit cards and loans.
- Higher credit limits: People with higher credit scores may qualify for higher credit limits when applying for credit cards or loans.
- Better credit card rewards: Many credit cards offer rewards and bonuses based on your credit score. People with higher credit scores can take advantage of more lucrative rewards programs.
- Lower security deposits: Some creditors may require a security deposit when buying a cell phone or renting an apartment. People with higher credit scores may qualify for lower security deposits or may not need to pay one at all.
Achieving the highest credit score of 850 isn’t necessary, but reaching a FICO score of 740 or higher is a good idea. A FICO score of 740 or higher will ensure that you qualify for the best rates and end up paying less money in interest over the life of the loan.
If your credit scores are lower than you would like, there’s no reason to panic. By making a few simple changes, you can start improving your credit scores right away. Focus on paying your bills on time, keeping your credit utilization low, and regularly checking your credit report for derogatory marks.