When it comes to credit scores, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there. Our credit scores impact our lives in more ways than you might think, yet, unfortunately, they are intentionally opaque and difficult to understand. In this article, we’ll clear up what credit scores are, why they matter, how to build credit, and how to improve your credit score.
A credit score is a 3-digit number that is meant to represent your credit risk, or how likely you are to default on a loan. This credit rating is calculated based on the information in your credit report, which lists your current and recent credit accounts.
To use an analogy, your credit report is like your school transcript: it is a list of your current and recent credit accounts and how well you did in paying them off on time. Your credit score rating is more like your overall GPA: a number that sums up all of that credit history information into one tidy package.
While there are many different versions of credit scores, most lenders use a FICO credit score. Another credit score, called the VantageScore, was developed by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The VantageScore is primarily used for educational purposes rather than lending decisions.
Both the VantageScore and the FICO credit score range from 300 to 850, with lower numbers representing a higher likelihood of defaulting on a loan (“bad credit”) and higher numbers representing a lower likelihood of defaulting on a loan (“good credit”).
If you ever want to buy something using credit instead of cash—a house or a car, for example—you’ll likely want to have a good credit score. Your credit score is what lenders use to decide whether or not they should loan you money and what the terms of that loan should be.
If you don’t have a credit score or credit history at all, lenders don’t have a way of judging your creditworthiness. Therefore, they may see you as too much of a risk and decline your request for credit.
If you do have a credit score, lenders will see it as a representation of how risky it is to lend money to you. A great credit score means you are a low-risk borrower, which means lenders can offer you low interest rates and other perks, such as credit card rewards.
On the other hand, a low credit score represents a high risk to lenders, since it shows that you may be more likely to default on a loan. To compensate for the higher risk of default, lenders charge higher interest rates and fees to those with poor credit scores—if they are willing to extend credit at all.
Your credit score doesn’t just affect your access to credit and the costs associated with using credit. Credit scores have increasingly been used for a variety of non-credit applications.
As you can see, credit scores affect a lot more than just your ability to get credit, and it is more important than ever to prioritize building your credit score.
Although the specific algorithms behind credit scores are closely-guarded trade secrets, the general categories that affect credit scores are widely known. In general, here’s what makes up a credit score:
Scores between 670 and above are considered good credit scores. Very good credit scores lie between 740 and 799 while excellent credit scores include scores of 800 and above.
Which credit score is the best? Only about 1% of Americans have the coveted 850, a perfect credit score.
Here are some things that can help you get a good credit score:
Learn more about how to increase your credit score with do-it-yourself credit repair strategies.
According to Investopedia, credit scores of 579 or below are considered bad credit scores, with 61% of borrowers in this credit score range being predicted to become delinquent on future loans.
Credit scores in the range between 580 and 669 are considered fair because only 28% of these borrowers are predicted to become delinquent on future loans. Unfortunately, even those with fair credit scores often have difficulty getting credit and higher interest rates than those with good or excellent credit scores.
Bad credit scores can have serious consequences that reach farther than just your finances. For more on bad credit, its effects, and how to fix it, check out our article on bad credit.
Here are some things that can lead to a bad credit score:
To build credit, you’ll need to open your own credit accounts and keep them in good standing by always making payments on time. This is the foundation of a good credit score.
However, as we mentioned, it can be difficult to start building credit since lenders want to see a credit score and credit history before extending credit.
The fastest way to build credit, especially for those who have a limited credit history, is to piggyback on the credit of someone else. Examples of credit piggybacking include getting a cosigner or guarantor in order to qualify for credit, opening a joint account with someone, or being added as an authorized user.
Once you have started to establish a credit history by piggybacking, you can continue to build up your credit by opening up more tradelines. You can also add tradelines to your credit file that already have years of perfect payment history to help balance out the effects of any derogatory accounts.
Remember, all credit starts with tradelines.
If you need to fix your credit score, there are some strategies you can use to repair your credit score yourself, such as disputing errors on your credit report and paying down high credit card balances.
Since payment history makes up the majority of your credit score, the most important thing is to get all of your accounts current and make sure to make all payments on time in the future, and your credit score should gradually recover.
When it comes to boosting your credit score, lasting results will require patience, good financial practices, and knowledge of how the credit system works. Use our free educational resources to learn more about credit scores, building credit, and how tradelines can help add credit history to your credit report.
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