Everything You Need to Know About Bad Credit (and How to Fix It)

what is considered bad credit

With multiple credit scoring models and agencies out there, it can be hard to answer a very important question: what is a bad credit score? And even more importantly: what can you do to fix bad credit if you have it?

If it turns out your credit score isn’t so great, the good news is there are steps you can take to improve it. Here’s what you can do to get that very important three-digit number back to where it needs to be.

What is a bad credit score?

Conversations around credit scores usually refer to the two most common ones: FICO Score and VantageScore.

  • A FICO Score ranges from 300 to 850, or 250 to 900 for “industry-specific” scores.
  • A VantageScore ranges from 300 to 850.

Essentially the higher your number is, the better your credit score is.

According to credit reporting giant Experian, a bad credit score for FICO is 579 and below. Scores in that range are ranked as “very poor,” while a “fair” credit score is 580 to 669. For VantageScore, a bad credit score is called “very poor” and is 549 or below, with “poor” as the next rung up at 550 to 649.

If you’re curious about how lenders process this information, consider these statistics. As of 2015, Experian reported the following:

  • Approximately 61 percent of consumers with a FICO Score of 579 or less are likely to become seriously delinquent in the future.
  • Approximately 27 percent of consumers with a FICO Score of 580 to 669 are likely to become seriously delinquent in the future.

In short, if you have what is considered bad credit (like a FICO Score of 580 or lower), then you indicate to lenders that you might be a risky borrower based on previous statistics of consumers with similar scores.

What bad credit means for you

Now that we know what is bad credit, what can we do about it? Well, first it’s important to understand the consequences of having bad credit before you can improve it.

Here are a few side effects of bad credit to keep in mind.

1. It’s harder to get approved for new credit

As stated previously, a credit score is considered a predictor of risk for lenders. Therefore, the lower your credit score is, the harder it will be for you to get approved for new credit.

So if your credit score is really low, you should start with a secured credit card before seeking approval from a lender for a traditional credit card. Secured credit cards require a down payment security deposit, which is why their easier to be approved for if you’re new to credit or have bad credit. Typically, after using a secured card for half a year or so, you can qualify for an upgrade to a traditional credit card. That upgrade is predicated on proper usage, though.

In other words, if you get a secured credit card, make sure you always pay on time and it won’t be too long before you can move up to a traditional credit card. And once you do, you’ll get your security deposit back if you don’t owe anything on the card.

Mortgages and auto loans could be totally out of reach until your score goes up since those require higher credit scores. The good news is, if you use a secured card regularly and always pay on time, your credit score can start to increase as you build your length of credit history and history of positive payments. This makes secured cards a great tool for rebuilding credit.

2. You’ll pay more for credit and possibly insurance

Although a bad credit score doesn’t always mean you can’t get approved for credit, it’s more likely that the credit you’re approved for will cost more.

To illustrate the difference, here’s an an example from MyFico of how one mortgage shakes out for two different credit scores. If you want a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $280,000 you will pay:

  • 3.49% APR with a credit score of 760.
  • 5.085 APR with a credit score of 620.

This might not seem like much of a difference at first until you see the actual payment breakdown.

  • $1,256 per month with a credit score of 760.
  • $1,517 per month with a credit score of 620.

The lower credit score costs an extra $261 per month or $3,132 per year.

And when you look at the difference in interest paid in 30 years, it’s just as significant.

  • $172,131 in interest for 30 years with a credit score of 760.
  • $266,055 in interest for 30 years with a credit score of 620.

In other words, the person with the lower credit score is paying an extra $93,924. That’s almost $100,000 more just for having a lower credit score.

As if that’s not bad enough, a 2016 study from Insurance Quotes found that someone with fair credit could pay “28 percent more for car insurance than a driver with excellent credit.”

What’s more, someone with poor credit could see a premium increase of 104 percent.

3. It could affect your future employment opportunities

There is the possibility that your credit report can affect your future employment opportunities.

While employers can pull your credit report, a study done for The National Bureau of Economic Research states, “Credit reports […] are of limited consequence for labor market outcomes, where employers rely on a much broader set of screening mechanisms.”

However, some states are banning this practice altogether, which you can read more about in Bloomberg.

The main thing to be aware of is bankruptcy filings and judgments because those remain on your credit report for several years. However, once they’re off your report, they no longer present an issue.

4. It might prevent you from getting housing

Landlords pull your credit score to see if they can trust that you’ll pay the rent. And even if you’ve never missed a rent payment in your life, a bad credit score could prevent you from getting an apartment.

Additionally, a bad credit score could prevent you from getting a mortgage. This is a loan that could cost hundreds of thousand of dollars and last for 30 years. It’s not something to enter into lightly and lenders want to see borrowers with strong and positive credit histories.

How you can improve your credit

The consequences of having bad credit are frightening, to say the least. But they’re not forever. If you start working on your credit diligently right now, then you will be able to see an improvement – and it won’t take five years to see it. ABC News has illustrations that break down how long it takes to see improvements in credit scores after various changes. Here are just a few examples they share:

  • It could take three or more months to recover from maxing out your credit card or closing an account.
  • It could take one to two years to recover from missed payments.
  • The big one to worry about: it could take seven to ten years to recover from bankruptcy.

Here are four habits you can adopt to begin improving your credit and financial outlook:

1. Fix errors on your credit report

Don’t let credit reporting errors keep you from the credit score you deserve.

Pull up your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com and follow these steps to dispute any credit report errors you find.

2. Start paying down debt

Thanks to something called credit utilization, a maxed out credit card can seriously hurt your credit score. The reason for this is credit utilization, which represents the amounts you owe on revolving credit in comparison to your credit limits, makes up 30 percent of your score.

The higher your credit utilization (or the closer your balances are to your limits), the worse your score. One easy fix for this is to increase your credit limit, but that’s not easy to do with bad credit.

Therefore, the best thing you can do is focus on paying down your debt. The more distance that grows between your balances and your credit limits, the better your score will be. The ideal credit utilization is 30 percent or lower – meaning your balances should not be more than 30 percent of your total credit limits.

3. Continually make payments on time

Your payment history makes up more than 30 percent of your credit score. And any late payment can be reported (including cell phones and library fines).

That’s why it’s important to make all of your payments on time. And if you can’t, talk to your creditor about setting up a payment plan or reviewing other repayment options they have before you go delinquent.

4. Keep old accounts open

The length of your credit history also factors into your credit score. So you can have an easy win in this category by keeping those old accounts open and in good standing as long as possible

5. Rinse and repeat

If you want to see your credit score go from bad to good, then it’s important to adopt all four of the above habits and keep at them for years to come.

A bad credit score isn’t forever

By staying on top of your credit score, you can rest assured that you’re giving yourself access to the best financial opportunities out there. If you know you have a bad credit score right now, don’t let that discourage you. Anyone can take their credit score to the next level if they diligently work at it.

Follow the best practices listed above, keep checking your credit report in case of any errors, and stay hopeful that you’ll see an improvement. It isn’t always easy, but you can move past financial missteps from the past to create a much brighter financial future.

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