What is it about scoring that brings out the perfectionist in all of us? It seems like the minute we know we’re officially judged on something, we suddenly care more than we would have before.
Enter credit scores.
Credit scores are important – vitally important. But the way some people strive for excellence on their scores can get in the way of their financial goals.
The good news is, you can give up that goal. While there is such thing as a perfect credit score, we all have multiple credit scores. And scoring perfectly on each and every type of score is unattainable. That’s why the only thing you should focus on are your credit score ranges.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read on.
What are credit score ranges?
Before we get too far into ranges, here’s some basic credit score information you should know:
- Everyone has more than one credit score
- Your credit scores are constantly changing
- There are two leading credit score models: FICO and VantageScore
With that out of the way, let’s look at the details. Your credit scores will vary based on the model being used to calculate your score. And the number you get will fall into one of five ranges. Here’s the breakdown of FICO credit score ranges:
- Exceptional: 800+
- Very good: 740-799
- Good: 670-739
- Fair: 580-669
- Poor: 579 and below
And here’s the breakdown of VantageScore credit score ranges:
- Super prime: 781-850
- Prime: 661-780
- Near prime: 601-660
- Subprime: 500-600
- Deep subprime: 300-499
Everyone has more than one credit score, so it’s entirely possible that you could fall into one range based on one credit score and another range based on a different credit score. This could even happen within the same credit scoring model since there are many versions of each. It’s even more likely if you’re close to the top or bottom of one particular range.
Regardless of the fact that you could land in more than one range among all your scores, it’s still important to get an idea of where you stand on the credit rating scale. Here’s how to find out.
How to know where you stand on the credit rating scale
It’s easier than ever before to get your credit score and understand where you fall on a credit score chart.
To start, if you have an account with a large national bank, there’s a good chance they’re already making your credit score available to you. The same goes with national credit card companies. Just log in to your account on their website to see if you have access to this information.
If your bank or credit card company haven’t made your score available, there are plenty of other places you can get your free credit score. But there’s one place you can’t get your free credit score: from your credit report.
As similar as these two things sound, they are not the same. While it’s important to check your credit reports each year (one from each of the three credit reporting agencies – all free annually at annualcreditreport.com), these reports won’t list your credit score.
Where you can check your credit score for free
There are new websites offering free credit scores all the time. Here’s a list of a few popular ones to get you started:
- Discover Credit Scorecard (no Discover membership required)
- CreditWise (no Capital One membership required)
- Credit Sesame
A word of caution
When you do check your score, keep in mind the score you see will very likely not be the same score lenders see.
Each lender uses a different version of their selected credit scoring model based on their needs. And some of the free services give you what’s called an “educational score.” That means they’re showing you a score to see where you stand, but you can’t count on it being the same score lenders are seeing.
While an educational credit score is helpful, it’s just another reminder that there is a myriad of scores out there for each of us. All the more reason to stay focused on the range, not on the three digit number.
While your range might vary as well, it’s a much easier way to get a general view of where you stand.
How to move up on the credit score chart
Where you stand on the credit rating scale can have a massive impact on your financial life. It will affect the interest rate you get on new credit. It could determine the amount you pay on insurance premiums. And it might even influence your employment opportunities.
If your credit score ranges aren’t as high as you’d like them to be, then it’s time to strategize a way to move on up the credit score chart. But before you can create your strategy, you first need to understand how credit scores work. And that will depend on the factors used to determine your scores.
FICO credit score factors
There are five main factors that FICO uses to calculate your credit score. These factors are not all weighted evenly, something you should keep in mind when we move on to the step of improving your credit.
- Payment history
- Amount of debt
- Length of credit history
- New credit
- Credit mix
VantageScore credit score factors
The factors that VantageScore uses to calculate your credit score don’t vary all that much from the factors FICO uses. Here’s how VantageScore defines their factors:
- Payment history
- Age and type of credit
- Percentage of credit limit used
- Total balances/debt
- Recent credit behavior and inquiries
- Available credit
How to improve your score and improve your credit score ranges
When comparing the list of factors that influence your credit score from FICO and VantageScore, you should see some overlap. That means you don’t have to spin your wheels to improve your credit score and thus your credit score ranges.
Here are a few best practices you can follow to move up on the credit score chart.
- Make all of your payments on time
- Decrease your debt
- Increase your credit limit – without using any of it
- Start and maintain long relationships with one or two financial institutions
- Rate shop responsibly
- Use credit when you need it but never go delinquent and never max out credit lines
- Dispute any errors you find on your credit report
While the list looks long, the explanation and practices are simple. Payment history is the most important factor for FICO and VantageScore credit scores. Therefore you get a straightforward win by just making sure to pay all of your bills on time.
As for debt amounts and credit limits, you can improve your credit score by widening the gap between the two. The closer your debt is to the maximum amount available to you, the worse your score will be. Work to pay off your debt and, if you need an extra boost, apply to increase your credit limit. That will widen the gap even more as long as you don’t use any of the new credit.
The next factor – applying for credit – is far less influential on your score, but it’s one that worries many consumers. As long as you rate shop responsibly then this shouldn’t be a concern. Only apply for one type of loan at the same time, only for the amount you need, and always within a short time frame such as 14 days. Credit-scoring bureaus will then batch your requests, so your score doesn’t get hit more than once.
Finally, make sure you’re checking your credit report from each of the credit reporting bureaus each year. If there’s an error on your report, it will affect your credit score and thus your credit score range. If you do happen to find an error, dispute it with the credit reporting bureau.
Why you should care about your credit score ranges
If this seems like a lot of work for nothing, think again. As mentioned above, your credit score ranges can have a massive impact on your financial life. And I don’t just mean when you want to use credit.
First of all, employers and prospective employers can check your credit score. That means falling into a low range could cost you employment opportunities.
Insurance companies can check your credit score. That means you could pay higher premiums for having a low score.
Finally, lenders can check your credit score. And that means either being denied for credit if your score is too low or being approved but at a much higher interest rate.
Like it or not, your credit score ranges have a huge effect on your finances. And you can’t just avoid the effects by avoiding credit.
If you pay late on a rental unit, your landlord can report that to the credit reporting agencies. The same goes for utility bills, medical costs, and just about any other kind of bill you can get. These delinquencies can show up on your credit report as early as 30 days late. And they will significantly impact your credit scores.
It’s also important to note that your income doesn’t affect your credit score. Credit reporting agencies aren’t concerned with how much money you earn as much as they are concerned with how you handle your financial obligations. Handling them poorly can cost you a lot more than just lost credit opportunities.
Just like setting up automatic payments or maintaining a budget, monitoring your credit should become a part of your finance routine.
Don’t get hung up on the number
With all that said, don’t get sucked into caring so much about your number that you make decisions that are bad for your finances. What kind of decisions might those be? Here are just a few examples of what not to do:
- Avoiding applying for credit when you need it because you fear taking a hit on your score
- Applying for types of credit you have no use for to improve your credit mix
- Thinking you have to carry a balance on your credit card to improve your score (you don’t)
These are just a few of the things people might do to try to improve their credit score, but they aren’t something you should try. And at the end of the day, using credit responsibly and diligently paying all of your financial accounts on time will help you build good credit.
Any time you see advice telling you to do something for your credit that can get you into financial trouble, understand that is bad advice. And don’t make decisions just to get the highest number possible. Remember, you have more than one score anyway.
Instead, practice responsible borrowing and stay focused on your credit score ranges. That way you can keep track of where you stand without becoming blinded by a desire for perfection.
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