Your credit score is a three-digit number that tells lenders how creditworthy you are. Scores are calculated by running the information on your credit report through an algorithm. There are many scoring models in existence, but one of the most common is the FICO® Score* . On the FICO scale, scores fall between a range of 300 and 850.
On the FICO scale, a score above 800 is considered exceptional. But anything above 670 is considered to be good. (See also: What Is The Highest Credit Score?) Aiming for a score of 700 or higher is a good goal because 700 is roughly the industry average, explains John Ulzheimer, a credit scoring expert.
Why Do I Want a Score Above 700?
Lenders look at your credit scores to determine how likely you are to pay back your debts on time. The higher your credit scores, the more favorable the offers you are likely to receive from lenders, like higher dollar amounts at lower interest rates. That means you will get better interest rates on loans, higher credit card limits and lower APRs, access to more financing options when you need to take out a loan, and sometimes even better access at qualifying for rental properties.
Lower rates will especially save you money in the long run because you will pay less money on a loan if you get a better offer from a lender.
How to Improve Your Credit Score
Generally speaking, the best way to improve a credit score is to stop doing the things that are causing your score to go down—along with allowing your credit report to improve over time.
While each scoring model gives different weight to the factors that affect your score, there are generally five factors that go into determining your scores:
- Payment history: This is typically one of the most important factors in determining your score in most scoring models. Late or missed payments bring your credit score down. Conversely, if you have a long history of paying your bills on time, your score with generally be higher.
- Credit utilization rate: This is the amount of credit you're actively using compared with the amount of credit available to you, based on your credit card limits. The lower the ratio, the higher your credit score. Aim to keep your utilization ratio under 30%, but for the best scores, you'll want to keep it under 10%.
- Number of accounts: Credit scoring models also look at how many credit accounts you have open and on how many you carry balances. It's better to have more accounts that don't have a balance than ones on which you do carry a balance.
- Credit history: Most scoring models also look at how long you have actively used credit. They typically look at the average age of all your open accounts. The longer your credit history, the better it is for your score.
- Credit mix: Scoring models also take into account what types of credit you have, whether they are all installment loans or credit cards. It's generally better to have a good mix of different types of credit.
- Hard inquiries: When you apply for a new credit card or another kind of loan, the lender will request your credit report. That is considering a "hard inquiry"—and too many can lower your score slightly. However, multiple inquiries of the same kind—like if you're shopping for a car loan—during the same period are often treated as one inquiry. The impact of hard inquiries goes down the older the inquiries are.
- Negative credit information: If your credit report has negative financial information, like bankruptcy or a collection account, that can negatively affect your credit score, as well.
Typically, when you pull a credit score, you will also receive information about why it stands where it does. Pay attention to that information and hone in on which of the factors noted above need improving. (See also: How Do You Check Your Credit Score?)
For example, if you have a poor payment history, you will want to make sure you pay every bill on time going forward. It will also take time to improve the score—late or missed payments remain on credit reports for up to seven years from the original delinquency date. However, as the delinquency ages, your scores will slowly come up.
If you are using up too much of your available credit, bring your credit utilization ratio down by paying off your debts. Alternatively, you can also consider applying for more credit cards to increase the amount of credit available to you. Just know that a new inquiry can bring your scores down slightly for a short period of time.
Check Your Credit Report
Because your credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit report, you will want to check your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus, including Experian. Look for inaccuracies or discrepancies that could be dragging your score down. If there are any, you should initiate a dispute with the credit bureau.
Get your free credit report from Experian, where you can also get your FICO® Score. You are also entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion at AnnualCreditReport.com.