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The Elusive 850: Experian Reveals Traits of Consumers With Perfect FICO® Scores

It's considered the unicorn of the financial world: a perfect credit score, the highest number a consumer can achieve within a credit scoring system. For the FICO® Score, one of the most commonly used credit scoring models, that mythical and seemingly impossible figure is 850. (FICO Scores range from 300 to 850.)

The truth is, Americans with a perfect 850 FICO Score do exist. In fact, 1.2% of all FICO Scores in the U.S. currently stand at 850. Think of it as the alternate—and perhaps slightly less glamorous—1 percent.

Of course, you don't need a perfect score to access credit at the best terms and lowest interest rates. In most cases, scores above 700 are considered good. And as a practical matter, lenders don't typically distinguish between scores that are in the "exceptional" range of 800 to 850. In many situations, a score above 760 will qualify you for the best interest rates. So while achieving an excellent credit score is a goal worthy of aspiring to, getting to the highest number on the scale is not necessary. Also keep in mind that credit scores are constantly changing, so even those that do reach 850 don't always stay there.

Because a small fraction of Americans have achieved the elusive 850, it can be illuminating to examine the features of these top scorers. For this report, Experian analyzed data from the fourth quarter of 2018 to highlight the characteristics of U.S. consumers who currently hold an 850 score. The numbers reveal a lot about what it takes to maintain credit scores in the top echelon.

Perfect Score vs. Average Score: Credit Profiles

People with perfect FICO Scores carry debt—they just do it differently from those further down the scoring scale. U.S. consumers with perfect scores have more tradelines, or credit products, but less average debt than those with the average FICO Score, which in the fourth quarter of 2018 was 701.

People with FICO Scores of 850 carried an average 6.4 credit cards compared with the national average of 3.8 credit cards. When it came to credit card debt, however, Americans with perfect FICO Scores owed less than half the U.S. average: an average $3,025 compared with the national average of $6,445.

In every other debt category except mortgage and personal loan, people with perfect scores had more open tradelines but less debt than their counterparts with average scores—underscoring the value of being able to manage debt while having numerous credit accounts.

Does Income Play a Role in Having a Perfect FICO Score?

Income is not a factor in determining your FICO Score. While access to some credit products can be restricted by your income and financial situation, when it comes to achieving a perfect credit score, income is not a barrier.

In fact, in the fourth quarter of 2018, a little over 38% of perfect FICO Scores were held by people with an estimated average annual income of $75K or less, according to Experian data.

Obviously, having more money can help you pay your bills, but building a healthy credit score really comes down to the basics of paying your bills on time every month and maintaining low credit utilization, or the amount of debt you carry compared with total credit available.

Does Age Impact Achieving a Perfect FICO Score?

While length of credit history is one of the main factors in calculating your FICO Score, it is still possible for people from younger generations to attain a perfect score. Baby boomers held the majority of perfect credit scores, accounting for 58% of people with an 850, according to Experian data from the fourth quarter of 2018. Generation X came next, accounting for 25% of people with perfect scores, and the silent generation trailed with 13% of the best scores.

While most of those with perfect scores were in the older generations, millennials made up 4% of those with perfect scores and Generation Y less than 1%—proving that it doesn't take a lifetime to grow to a perfect 850.

Hawaii Has the Highest Concentration of People With Perfect FICO Scores by State

Looking at perfect FICO Scores by state, Hawaii had the highest concentration of people with 850 scores, at 1.76%. Minnesota came in second with 1.7% of people with perfect scores, followed by Connecticut at 1.65%, Virginia at 1.63%, and Maryland coming in fifth with 1.6%.




California Holds the Top Five Areas With the Highest Concentration of People With Perfect FICO Scores

Looking at the concentration of perfect FICO Scores by metropolitan statistical area (MSA), California held all top five spots. The San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, California, area had the highest concentration of perfect FICO Scores, with 2.27% of its scores reaching 850, according to Experian data from the fourth quarter of 2018. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California, and Santa Rosa-Petaluma, California, came next with 2.15% and 2.13% of people with perfect scores, respectively. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, came in fourth with 2.03% of all scores being perfect. And finally, San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, California, came in fifth with 1.99% of all FICO Scores reaching 850.


Getting a Perfect FICO Score

If you've been working to attain a perfect FICO Score, here are a few takeaways to consider as you work toward your goal. Remember that having multiple credit cards or lines of credit is not a bad thing—unless you mismanage your debt. Open new accounts when needed, and make sure to manage your debt and payments responsibly. In addition to making your payments on time and keeping your debt levels low, avoid any delinquent tradelines.

If you're trying to build your credit score, periodically check your credit reports and scores so you can keep track of what is in your file and how it is affecting your score. You can get a free copy if your credit report and score from Experian and you can use the Experian credit monitoring tool to regularly track your score in the future.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.

This article was originally published on March 14, 2019, and has been updated.

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