A high credit score can make or break your qualifying for just about any line of credit, including a credit card, car loan or mortgage. If you want to borrow money, you need to prove you can handle credit and pay it back on time. Think of every time you pay your debts as a touchdown and you’ll be in the right frame of mind to set up an effective financial game plan.
What Is a Credit Score?
So what is a credit score, exactly? Your credit score is a measure of how trustworthy you are as a borrower, and it’s measured by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Federal law entitles you to receive a free credit report — from each reporting company once every 12 months — which can help you ensure all of your information is accurate and up-to-date. In addition, some credit card companies now enable customers to view their free credit score online as part of their available account information.
How Your Credit Score Is Determined
In general, there are five elements that factor into your credit score, and each is weighted differently.
1. Payment History: 35 percent
Payment history is basically a snapshot of your reliability as a consumer and borrower. It includes your credit card, car and mortgage payments. It also shows whether you have defaulted on other bills, had an account sent to a collection agency or been sued for delinquency. Bankruptcies and foreclosures fall into this category, as well.
2. Debts: 30 percent
The next largest factor in determining your credit score is how much credit you’ve been extended versus how much you’re using. Credit bureaus use something called a credit utilization ratio to measure whether you’re using too much credit. You shouldn’t owe too much on your revolving credit, but you also can’t owe too little.
Keeping total balances owed at 7 percent of your total revolving credit limit gives consumers higher scores, according to Tracy Becker, credit expert and president of North Shore Advisory, a credit score restoration and education company.
3. Length of Credit History: 15 percent
The longer your credit history, the more reliable you look as a borrower. Keeping an old line of credit open and active shows you are reliable.
4. Types of Credit You Use: 10 percent
If you can successfully manage different types of credit, your credit score will reflect that. Becker explained that having many old and active accounts, including installment credit, revolving credit, mortgages and lines of credit will provide you a healthy mix of credit types.
5. New Credit You Take On: 10 percent
Applying for and/or opening too many lines of credit at once raises red flags for credit bureaus and lenders. If you’re shopping around for the best loan rates and terms, however, a few inquiries in a short period of time won’t be detrimental to your score.
What Is a Good Credit Score?
Rather than push for the highest credit score, think instead of a credit score range. If you have a score of around 780, you’re in the end zone: You’re likely to receive the same interest rates and preferred treatment that you would get if your score was a perfect 850.
Being in the 800 Club is something to brag about, so if you want to reach for the stars, go for it — but don’t let backfield emotions lead the way. Although it’s possible to obtain the perfect credit score, you don’t need it to receive the top benefits. Your score is not entirely in your control, so keep this in mind and you can focus less on striving for perfection and more on enjoying all the things your responsible actions have afforded you.
What Is the Highest Credit Score You Can Have?
Even among the most disciplined consumers, few achieve the highest credit score possible. In fact, only about 0.5 percent of Americans are able to obtain an 850 credit score, according to FICO. Even then, credit scores change all the time, so it’s not likely that any one person is maintaining an 850 credit score 100 percent of the time.
How to Get the Highest Credit Score Possible
Improving your credit score is a matter of building healthy financial habits and keeping your debt-to-income ratio low. Katie Ross, education and development manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling, a nonprofit that educates consumers on identity theft, credit, debt and budgeting, offered a few key tips for consumers looking to improve their credit scores.
You should avoid using your credit card if you’re in a financial bind. “Finance charges and other fees will add to your debt burden,” Ross said. However, even using your credit card when times get tough is preferable to a home equity loan.
Don’t get into the habit of making minimum payments. “If you pay only the minimum, it will take a long time to pay off your debt,” said Ross. “For example, if you owe $5,000 on an account with 18% APR, making 2-percent payments will take over 44 years to pay off. Also, you will have paid $12,431 in interest.”
Make your payments on time, every time. Paying off your debt might be difficult, but avoiding payments won’t make your life any easier. “Bad problems get worse fast when you have late fees and higher rates to pay during financial difficulty,” Ross said.
Don’t max out your credit cards. “A credit card account close to its limit will cause a big drop in your credit score,” she said. Maxing out your account also puts you in danger of getting hit with over-limit fees.
The Elusive 800 Club
So what is a perfect credit score, and what is actually the highest credit score you can have? The highest possible FICO score is 850, but how do you get into the so-called 800 Club? In short, if you want to get into the Hall of Fame for credit scores, you need to work at it. If you’re willing to commit to sound financial habits once you achieve your goal of a score in the 800s, you might just maintain it.
Keep in mind, however, that maintaining the best credit score possible means that you must be vigilant about your credit in a few different ways:
- Be consistent about making your payments
- Apply for new credit cards judiciously
- Keep your DTI ratio low
- Don’t spend more than 10 or 20 percent of your total credit limit on each card
Seven Tips on How to Improve Your Credit Score
Now that you know exactly how your credit score is determined and what elements go into that score, here are a few ways you can start to manage your credit like a pro and improve your credit score now:
Keep Reading: 20 Best Ways to Improve Your Credit Score