The world seems to revolve around credit scores these days. Whether you’re in an office or a coffee shop, you’ll likely overhear talk of FICO scores and credit report stats.
But what drives this obsession with credit?
While you might have heard it said that “money makes the world go ‘round,” with the ongoing praise of “the almighty FICO,” credit score is what makes the world go round now. In other words, like it or not, credit is an integral part of life. And without it, a lot of events couldn’t happen.
Think about the last time you went car shopping or looking for a new apartment. Signing an authorization for the company to check your credit was a normal part of the process, right? Heck, even getting a job offer or a new cell phone depends on your credit report.
Rather than analyzing your credit data themselves, the majority of creditors and lenders rely on your FICO score to make decisions regarding how likely you are to pay back any money you borrow.
With so much riding on your FICO score, striving for a decent rating makes sense. But is it even possible to get an 850 FICO? And why would anyone want to?
What Makes Up Your FICO Score?
Your FICO score is determined by completing a complex calculation of your entire credit history, broken down into an easy-to-understand three-digit number. The higher your FICO score, the more creditworthy you are.
FICO uses five categories to calculate your score, and here’s how each one impacts your overall rating :
- Payment history - 35%
- Amounts owed - 30%
- Length of credit history - 15%
- New credit - 10%
- Credit mix - 10%
Because each category has a different weight, your score depends on how your credit history plays out in each area. If you have an excellent payment history but a lot of new credit, your FICO score would be better than someone who had very little new credit but a poor payment history.
Since how you manage debt is what makes up the majority of your FICO score, what if you’ve avoided debt altogether?
That’s when manual underwriting can come into play.
With manual underwriting, a lender can still review your history. Although going over your track record of housing payments, bank statements, and other bills such as utilities, auto insurance, school tuition, and childcare, is time consuming.
Still, the lengthy review gets the job done.
But most consumers in the U.S. have a FICO credit score, and establishing one is a simple process for those that don’t. All you need is at least one account that’s been open for six months or more.
If you’re having trouble qualifying for credit, applying for a secured credit card is an excellent first step. Another option is to ask a friend or family member to add you as an authorized user on their existing credit card. Often, their credit history is enough to offset your lack of credit and help you boost your score over time.
Then, once lenders report your account and payment history to the credit bureaus, you’ll be well on your way to building your FICO score.
What’s a “Good” FICO Score?
FICO scores range from 300 to 850, with 850 being the highest score possible. But if a perfect score is out of reach, is there a “good enough” number?
First, for a better understanding of what FICO considers to be “good” vs. “very good,” here’s how the scores pan out:
- 800+ is “exceptional” and falls much higher than the national average FICO score.
- 740 - 799 is “very good” and is also above the national average.
- 670 - 739 is a “good” score, and this is where most consumers find themselves.
- 580 - 669 is “fair” and people in this range have difficulty getting credit approval.
- 579 or lower is a “poor” rating and consumers are likely to be rejected when applying for credit.
As you can see, you’re sitting pretty if your score is between 670 and 739. And if you’re among the 23% of Americans with a “very good” rating, you’re doing exceptionally well.
What’s considered to be “good enough” for you depends on what your financial goals are.
If buying a house is in your future, a credit score of 500 or above is all you need to qualify for an FHA loan provided you can put down at least 10% of the purchase price. If your score is above 580, you can qualify for an FHA loan with a much lower initial out-of-pocket cost.
But your credit score needs to be much higher - at least 718 according to Bankrate - if you’re set on buying a new car. However, getting approval for a used car can usually be done with a score of at least 659.
Can You Get to an 850 FICO?
While having a perfect score isn’t good for much more than bragging rights, a scant 1% of the American population has achieved an 850. If you want to be among the highest achievers, try to imitate the common characteristics of people who are already there.
To start, consumers with an 800+ FICO score have an average credit history of 25 years or more. This makes getting a perfect score nearly impossible for younger account holders.
High achievers also tend to have an average of seven cards, including open and closed accounts, in their credit history. And they carry a balance on just four of those accounts.
As you can see, climbing to the prestigious height of an 850 score is possible. But achieving a number that high won’t be the reality for most people.
If you want to give it your best shot, your payment history must be flawless since it makes up the highest portion of your total rating. Plus, keeping the amount you owe low compared to how much credit you have available is crucial.
From there, you’ll need some time to establish a long credit history and the discipline not to open new lines of credit.
Why You Don’t Need a Perfect FICO Score
Financial instability and setbacks at any age can make you overly cautious when it comes to how you handle your credit. But no matter how you shake it, a perfect score isn’t necessary to qualify for some of the best interest rates or APRs.
Plus, your credit fluctuates up and down according to your credit behaviors. Something as simple as a change in your credit card balance or a closed account falling off your credit report can cause your score to jump high or low.
So if you manage to hit that magical peak of an 850 FICO, make sure you take a picture. No matter how proud you are, you probably won’t be at the top for long.
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