My credit repair journey started when I had a credit score in the 530s. I couldn’t get a credit card, let alone a mortgage loan.
That’s when I said enough is enough and set out to learn everything I could about improving my credit score.
I had a lot to learn. I started by figuring out what credit score models really meant by terms like bad credit, fair credit, good credit, and excellent credit.
Table of Contents:
FICO Credit Score Ranges
Here’s how to find out exactly where your credit score falls in the range of FICO scores.
- Excellent Credit (780+): With an excellent credit score of 780 or higher you will get the best rates available.
- Very Good Credit (720 – 779): In this range you shouldn’t have any problems getting good rates.
- Good Credit (680 – 719): This is a good credit range to be in, but you won’t get the very best rates on loans or credit cards.
- Average Credit (620 – 679): Your score could use some improvements, but you should still be able to get decent rates. You can still qualify for most FHA mortgage loans, for example.
- Poor Credit (580 – 629): A credit score in this range means you’re higher risk and might have trouble finding decent rates. You’ll also get turned down on some credit applications. You could still get some USDA and VA loans if you qualify for those programs.
- Very Poor Credit (579 or less): Anything less than 580 means that you’re very high risk for borrowing. You’ll get turned down for almost all credit applications. If you do get approved, the interest rates will be staggering. Don’t worry though, this can be fixed!
How to Get Your Free Credit Report
If you want to see your most up-to-date credit score for free, you can now get a free credit report each week from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
Free weekly reports will be available through April of 2021 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. After April of 2021, you’ll still be eligible for one free credit report from all three major credit bureaus every year.
You can also track your credit through free credit monitoring services like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. These won’t show your actual credit score, but they’ll give you a good approximation based on your payment history, credit utilization rate, and mix of accounts.
One of your credit card accounts may offer free FICO scores or free Vantagescore. Check on the app or website to find out.
Credit Score Ranges Chart
|Very Poor||Poor||Average||Good||Very Good||Excellent|
Improving Your Credit Score Range
So now you know where your three-digit number falls in the credit score ranges. If you already have excellent credit — ranging from 780 to 850 — congratulations.
Your only job now will be to keep doing what you’re doing to maintain stellar creditworthiness.
If you have very good credit, you may want to figure out how to optimize your score even more to achieve an even-better three-digit number. Keep reading to learn ways to fine-tune your credit life.
For everyone else, you probably have a little work to do to get into a better credit score range.
Like I said above, don’t worry if your credit score has parked itself at the lower end of the spectrum. I’ll show you exactly where to start working to achieve the best credit possible.
7 Tips to Get a Perfect Credit Score
The first thing to keep in mind is that obtaining a perfect credit score takes time.
It’s rather easy to remove negative items from your credit report and get a better score, but a perfect score is another story.
Now, assuming you don’t have any negative items on your credit report like late payments or a collections account, let’s get into the more advanced credit behavior you’ll need to learn and put into practice.
Keep in mind that all of the steps outlined below are based on my personal experience, not random advice I’ve read on the internet.
1. Have at Least Three Credit Cards but Only Use One
This first step comes completely from my own experience after experimenting with different techniques.
These cards should have long, good payment histories, and low credit utilization (more on this in step 3).
It’s best to use only one of these cards on a regular basis and simply keep the other two cards with a $0 balance.
It’s not that you can’t ever use the other two cards, but generally, I like to keep their balances at zero. This technique will maximize your credit score.
2. Have at Least One Gas or Store Credit Card
For the longest time, I resisted getting a store card, such as a Macy’s credit card, because I saw no point in opening a new credit account just for one store.
But, now I know better. If you shop at one store a lot, and that store offers its own credit card, consider applying. These cards have some nice perks such as cash back or coupons.
More importantly, a store credit card can boost your credit. I can’t document this, but I know getting a Macy’s card — and keeping its balance at $0 each billing cycle — boosted my FICO score by 20 points.
Just be sure you don’t buy too much and run up a balance you can’t clear each month. If you do that, you’ll be cutting into your available credit which will hurt your credit score.
3. Use Your Credit Card but Never Max It Out
I’m not the type of person who buys everything on my credit card. I do use one of my credit cards a lot, however.
I’ve found I need to use the credit card a lot to get the highest FICO score possible. The caveat is that you should never max out the card. In fact, I recommend you pay it down (or off) every month and never get even close to the credit limit.
As a general rule, you should try to keep your credit utilization under 25%. In other words, if you have a credit card with a total credit limit of $1,000, never rack up more than $250 worth of charges on the card.
This is why it’s also important to have a credit card with a high limit. For example, my main credit card has a credit limit of $30,000, and I never get even close to 25% utilization.
If you don’t have a card with a high enough limit to keep you comfortably under 25% utilization, give the creditor a call and request that they up the credit limit.
4. You Need a Mortgage Loan
You definitely don’t need a mortgage loan to have good credit. However, if you want to max out your credit score, having a mortgage loan with good payment history is a must.
Since a mortgage loan is usually a relatively large loan and more difficult to get than other installment loans such as an auto loan, a mortgage shows creditors you have been responsible enough with your credit to get the mortgage in the first place.
Fair Isaac Corporation, which provides the FICO score, recommends you have a mix of different types of credit accounts. So along with credit cards and installment loans, a mortgage loan is the last piece of the pie to round off your credit mix.
I also want to note I didn’t start seeing my credit score go up because of the mortgage loan until about a year later, so it definitely takes some time.
You obviously shouldn’t take out a mortgage loan just to get a perfect credit score. But a mortgage loan is normally considered to be “good” debt, in that interest rates are relatively low and you’re financing something that usually appreciates in value.
If you don’t already have a mortgage, be sure to fix up your credit report before applying for a mortgage — assuming you’re ready for homeownership.
5. Pay Down All Installment Loans
I was surprised by this one. I always assumed my credit score wouldn’t be affected by the balances on my installment loans.
But I noticed that once I paid off my auto loans and student loans, my credit score jumped more than 20 points.
The key here is that you should pay off as much of the loan as possible, if not all of it. The closer the remaining balance is to zero, the more it will benefit your credit score.
For a little bit of perspective, I paid off a $30,000 auto loan, another $20,000 auto loan, and student loans totaling $11,000. Almost immediately after I did this, my credit score improved.
6. Don’t Apply for Loans or Credit Cards for at Least a Year
Once you’ve paid down your installment loans, I suggest you stop applying for loans and credit cards altogether. By this point, you should have a few credit cards in your wallet, a couple of paid off cars, and a mortgage.
When you’re in this position, there is really no need to apply for more credit.
By not applying for credit, you won’t get any hard inquiries on your credit report and this helps your credit score. If you need to apply for credit, just keep in mind the hard inquiries will stay on your credit for about a year.
Again, you should be in a situation by this point where you don’t need anymore credit.
7. Wait, Wait, Then Wait Some More
You simply have to be patient. Even when you make all the right decisions, it’ll take some time to see results.
Part of your score relates directly to the length of credit history. But even on more important credit reporting factors such as your payment history and credit utilization ratio, time is your friend.
This is especially true if your past credit behavior has been questionable. With each passing year, your past bad decisions have less of an impact on your current credit information.
So be patient and continue making good decisions to establish a positive credit history, even if you don’t see immediate results.
Keep making your payments on time and make sure you don’t get any negative entries like a collection account. And let your current credit accounts grow older. The older your accounts, the better your credit score can be.
For example, my oldest credit card is 15 years old, and my average credit card is 8 years old.
Could Inaccurate Credit Information Be Hurting Your Score?
The average credit score for Americans is 703 according to Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus. Experian contributes data to compile your FICO credit score.
On the credit score range, 703 is considered a good score. But it’s not good enough to have a full selection of loan choices when you need to borrow.
Your good credit could use some fine-tuning if you want a higher credit score.
So let’s say you’ve already built a good credit mix, a good payment history, and an established length of credit history as I described above.
If this is true, you may be wondering what’s holding you back from achieving a different credit score?
Inaccurate Credit Histories Are Common
Many people in this situation discover they have a few negative entries on their credit reports that are not accurate.
Credit reporting requires a lot of communication between lenders, loan servicers, and the three major credit bureaus.
When you discover inaccurate credit information on your credit report, you’ll want to get that negative entry removed as soon as possible so your credit score can be all that it can be.
Unfortunately, when you apply for credit, credit card issuers and other lenders won’t care whether your credit score doesn’t really reflect your actual credit risk. No matter how well you explain things, the lender will rely on what myfico says.
When you have worked hard to establish a long history of on-time payments and responsible credit utilization, these kinds of lending decisions are beyond frustrating!
So removing inaccurate credit information from your credit history is a must. Doing this should restore your credit history within a couple months.
There are a couple ways to go about it:
- Do It Yourself Credit Repair: You can call the lender who reported incorrect credit information and ask that they correct the inaccurate data. I always recommend handling this in writing.
- Professional Credit Repair: If you’re the type of person who would rather pay a professional handle it and just be done with the whole thing, I suggest you check out Credit Saint.
FICO Score vs. Vantage Score
The three major credit bureaus created the Vantage Score back in 2006 to compete with Fair Isaac Corporation’s FICO credit score model. Since then Vantage Score has released several new credit score models, including Vantagescore 3.0 and 4.0.
While the Vantage Score has grown more popular and is easier to check, thanks to free credit monitoring services like Credit Sesame, both your FICO score and your Vantage Score work to reveal your credit behavior.
The credit score ranges are very similar, although Vantage Score does have a category for perfect credit (800 to 850).
If you earn an improvement within one of these credit score models, you will almost always see the same result with the other model, too — especially if you have a shaky credit history and have a couple years of work to achieve a good credit score.
Your FICO Score: Just One Piece of the Puzzle
I’d like to conclude this post by offering a little perspective. You may want a perfect credit score, and if you do I suggest you go for it.
But there’s more to your personal finance life than perfect credit. Different lenders consider criteria other than your credit history when you apply for a loan or a credit card.
Your debt-to-income ratio, for example, could disqualify you for some of the best credit cards and loan options. This ratio measures how well you’re able to pay your current bills with the income you’re bringing in.
Your employment history could matter to some lenders, too. Just like with the length of credit history, a longer employment history works in your favor.
If you work to create the most stable personal finance life possible, your FICO score (and your Vantage Score) will fall into place, and you’ll stay at the top of the credit score range.
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