You’ve heard it all before – you need to take care of your credit score like it’s grandma’s prized china or maybe your new cell phone. But if you’re more of the goal-oriented type, what constitutes a win when it comes to credit score? How do you know when your score is among the best?
First, a few facts: When you hear the term credit score, most people are referring to your FICO score. Actually, it's FICO scores. You have three separate scores – one from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus based on the information they have on you. This means that your FICO score from Equifax might be different from your Experian or TransUnion score, but probably not drastically different. If it is, you’d better do some investigation.
Getting the Top Score
The highest score possible is 850 while the lowest is 300. In reality, achieving an 850 probably isn’t going to happen. It would take a perfect combination of many factors to get there. A simple lack of negative entries on your credit report isn’t going to result in an 850. For more on this, read What are the best ways to rebuild my credit score quickly?
What’s the magic number that will get you the best interest rates, payment terms and perks that come from being rated among the best of the best? According to Anthony Sprauve, director of public relations at FICO, "If you have a FICO score above 760, you're going to be getting the best rates and opportunities."
How hard is it to get that number? Looking at the averages, it’s no easy task. For people 25 to 34 years of age, the average score is 628. As you get older your score rises. By the time you reach age 45 to 54, the average is 647; at 55-plus, it's 697.
If those statistics seem a little depressing, don’t worry. Even if you don’t reach that coveted 760 number, it’s not like you'll have to pay cash for everything the rest of your life.
Good Scores for Different Purposes
For example, if you’re looking to buy a home, a score of 500 qualifies you for a FHA loan. Other statistics show that more than 97% of all FHA loans went to people with scores above 620. Just because you qualify doesn’t mean you’ll be approved, but if you exceed that 620 number, your chances are quite good.
Conventional mortgages are hard to get with a score below 620 and some lenders require at least 700. This is why financial gurus advise people who want to buy a home to not miss bill payments or overextend themselves with credit cards or other loans. You’re going to need stellar credit to become a homeowner in most cases.
Also remember that the better your credit score is, the lower the interest rate you'll be offered. Consider a 30-year mortgage of $200,000 at a fixed rate: According to one data set, the difference in interest rates for people with a 760 score versus a 620 could be 1.6%. That’s $68,000 difference over the life of the mortgage.
Recent statistics showed that more than 70% of applicants are approved for car leases, and finding a credit card company to approve you probably won’t be difficult. In both cases, the higher your score, the better your terms – and the less you’ll pay in interest.
The Bottom Line
If you’re not feeling good about your credit score, there are ways to increase it. Read Best Ways To Repair Your Credit Score and 10 Ways To Improve Your Credit Report for tips. Understand, however, that your score isn’t likely to improve rapidly.
Given reasonably good luck with your income and health, taking good care of your credit score is mostly common sense: Don’t owe people too much money, pay your bills on time, and don’t fall for any headline that says, “We can improve your credit score overnight.” If you go through some bad times, focus on when you can get back on track and follow through as quickly as you can.