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What is a 'Bad Credit'

Bad credit describes an individual's credit history when it indicates that the borrower has a high credit risk. A low credit score signals bad credit, while a high credit score is an indicator of good credit. Creditors who lend money to an individual with bad credit face a greater risk of that individual missing payments or defaulting than creditors who lend to individuals with good credit.


An individual's credit history is dependent on a number of factors, including the amount owed, the amount of available credit and the timeliness of payments. An individual may have bad credit if he does not make timely payments or has defaulted on a loan during a period of time. Having bad credit makes it more difficult or costly to obtain loans, such as mortgages, from financial institutions.

How Credit Scores Are Determined

In the United Scores, the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) calculates credit scores. Using information from the three credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, FICO weighs various information in strategic ways to calculate the score.

Designed to offer a quick snapshot of an individual's credit worthiness, the FICO credit score gives payment history the most weight, and it constitutes over a third of the score. Thirty percent of the score is based on the amount owed, 15% on length of credit history, 10% on the mix of credit and 10% on new credit inquiries.

Payment history refers to whether or not payments were made on time, and the amount owed refers to the total amount of debt including mortgages, credit cards, bills in collections, judgments and other debts owed by the individual. Length of credit history takes into account the oldest account noted on the credit report, while credit mix considers how many different accounts a borrower has. For example, a borrower who only has credit cards scores lower in this category than a borrower with a mortgage, a car loan, a line of credit and a credit card. Finally, new credit refers to the number of credit inquiries recently made by the individual or the number of accounts recently opened.

Credit Scores That Indicate Bad Credit

FICO scores range from 300 to 850. Traditionally, borrowers with scores at or below 579 have bad credit. According to Experian, 61% of borrowers with scores in this range are likely to default or become seriously delinquent on their loans in the future.

Scores between 580 and 669 are labeled as fair. Only 28% of these borrowers are likely to become seriously delinquent on loans, making them considerably less risky to lend to than borrowers with bad credit scores. However, even borrowers within this range face high interest rates or have trouble securing loans.

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