Credit Score Ranges: Learn What They Mean

Katie Taylor Updated on May 14, 2019

When it comes to personal finance, it’s hard to find a number that’s more important than your credit score. From the loans you can get to the interest rates you’ll pay, the financial implications of your score are hard to overstate.

It’s no wonder, then, that many Americans are searching for clarity about how their scores are calculated, and how they influence financial outcomes in their own lives.

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Because credit scores aggregate dozens of data points in complex algorithms, it can be difficult to understand how they’re generated. Millennials are particularly likely to have questions about what their scores mean, showing less credit knowledge than Gen Xers in a recent survey. While many of these young Americans acquire some knowledge of credit and debt through their student loans, they may not know how much a better score could save them in the years to come.

Thankfully, understanding your credit score doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect. Scores fit into a few distinct ranges, and they can help show where you fall on the credit spectrum. If you’re unsure of what credit score ranges mean, this guide can supply some answers. We’ll describe how financial experts characterize various credit scores and the interest implications of each range. You can improve your credit by seeing where you stand and what you stand to gain.

How credit scores are calculated

In basic terms, credit scores measure how likely you are to repay a loan. That’s why businesses use them in their lending decisions: They’re making an educated bet on whether they’ll get their money back.

Virtually all credit reports rely on one of two providers: FICO or VantageScore. These companies put people’s financial data through their proprietary algorithms, producing the single number that forms your score. Here’s where the headaches start, though: Your score will differ depending on which company is running the numbers, and both have a variety of scoring models geared toward particular types of loans. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on each provider’s primary scoring system.

Currently, FICO and VantageScore employ a scale ranging from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the greater the chance a borrower will pay his or her debt. It’s worth noting that this scale only includes those with sufficient credit histories to receive a score at all. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 45 million Americans are “credit invisible” or “unscored,” falling outside the scoring parameters.

What sort of data do these scores entail? Let’s take a look at each company’s scoring factors and the weight they give to each area.

FICO Criteria

  • 35% payment history
  • 30% amount owed
  • 15% length of history
  • 10% new credit
  • 10% types of credit used

VantageScore Criteria

  • 30% amount of the consumer's recent credit
  • 28% consumer's payment history
  • 23% utilization of the consumer's current credit
  • 9% size of the consumer's account balances
  • 1% amount of the consumer's available credit

The VantageScore formula may shift in the coming months, as the company rolls out its VantageScore 4.0 model. The new scoring system promises to leverage “machine learning techniques” and incorporate trends in borrower behavior more thoroughly.

While these scores differ in their precise compositions, they share an emphasis on the size of your debt and how consistently you pay it down. Those parts of your past set the tone for your financial future because lenders determine interest according to the default risk you represent. If you want a loan and have poor credit, you can expect to pay more for the privilege of borrowing money.

Credit score ranges: What they mean and why they matter

Now that we understand what these scores assess, we can characterize and compare different credit score ranges. For this article, we’ll focus primarily on FICO score ratings. That’s because the vast majority of lending decisions utilize FICO scores, so it’s the standard by which you’ll likely be judged.

Below, we’ll outline the five major credit score ranges and what they mean concerning how lenders see you:

Excellent Credit: 800+

  • In this credit score range, you can expect lenders to roll out the red carpet. You’ll be offered good terms and may even be able to negotiate for better ones.
  • An estimated 1% of borrowers in this credit score range will become delinquent on their loans.

Very Good Credit: 740 to 799

  • In this range, you’re still a very attractive borrower to the vast majority of lenders. Your interest rates will probably be favorable as long as you’re not stretching your income to make the purchase in question.
  • An estimated 2% of borrowers in this credit score range will become delinquent on their loans. 

Good Credit: 670 to 739

  • Credit scores in this range are close to the national average, and you can anticipate getting credit in most cases. Unfortunately, you may not be thrilled about the amount of interest you have to pay.
  • An estimated 8% of borrowers in this credit score range will become delinquent on their loans.

Fair Credit: 580 to 669

  • Consumers in the category may have trouble obtaining credit. When they do, their interest rates will be significantly higher than that of most borrowers.
  • An estimated 28% of borrowers in this credit score range will become delinquent on their loans.

Poor Credit: 579 and lower

  • Would-be lenders will often reject those seeking loans with scores in this range. To get even modest loans, they may be asked to pay fees upfront to offset lending risks.
  • An estimated 61% of borrowers in this credit score range will become delinquent on their loans.

Why you really pay - by range

While these ranges are a good guideline for assessing your credit health, lenders scrutinize specific score ranges far more carefully. We want to provide some tangible evidence of the consequence of credit scores in your financial future. While each industry assesses different criteria, let’s explore how much your credit score could end up costing you if you apply for a mortgage.

  • Suppose you want to buy a home for $200,000, a modest purchase relative to the median price for new homes sold nationwide. You sign up for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

  • If your credit score were 760 or better, here’s an estimate of what you’d pay:
    • 3.6 percent APR
    • $907 monthly payment
    • $126,617 total interest over your mortgage term.
  • On the other hand, if you had just “fair” credit, your terms would be far less appealing. If your credit score fell between 620 and 640, you’d be looking at the following:
    • 5.2 percent APR
    • $1,095 monthly payment
    • $194,071 in monthly interest

In this example, the better score would save you almost $200 a month, and nearly $70,000 in the long run. With numbers like these, there’s no denying the importance of your credit score range.

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America's most common credit scores

Now you know how to classify your credit and how it dictates interest costs over time. But you’re probably wondering where you stack up relative to the rest of America. After all, the ranges aren’t necessarily comparable: While an 800 or higher might be “excellent,” half of Americans could theoretically fall in that range. On the other hand, the majority could have poor credit in the eyes of the country’s lenders.

We crunched the FICO data to get answers about how common various scores really are. In 2017, the average credit score in America was 700, solidly in the middle ground of “good” credit. Here’s a closer view of how America’s scores break down:

  • 300–499: 4.7% of population
  • 500–549: 6.8% of population
  • 550–599: 8.5% of population
  • 600–649: 10.0% of population
  • 650–699: 13.2% of population
  • 700–749: 17.1% of population
  • 750–799: 19.0% of population
  • 800–850: 20.0% of population

Thankfully, the majority of the country is concentrated at the top of the credit scale. But even if you fall in the lower-scoring groups, know you’re not alone. Nearly 5% of the American public is still plenty of company.

Improvement is possible

If your current credit score range leaves you unsatisfied, you’re not doomed to endure poor credit forever. Thankfully, your score can change for the better if you demonstrate responsible borrower behavior – entitling you to better terms in the future.

Below, we’ll list some top tips from our Best Ways To Build Credit guide. Put them into practice, and your score should steadily increase:

Quick Tips For Improving Your Credit Score

Make Payments On Time

Missed payments can make your credit score plunge. Avoid them at all cost, and try to pay more than the minimum each month if possible.

Keep Credit Utilization Low

Just because you can borrow more doesn't mean you should. As a general rule, avoid carrying a balance that's more than 30 percent of your total credit limit.

Get a Secured Credit Card

Unlike most credit cards, these are specifically intended to help you build credit at no risk to your lender. You give your lender cash equivalent to the total amount you can borrow, then make full and timely payments on whatever you borrow each month.

Take On a Credit Builder Loan

Another product designed specifically to help you build credit, these loans keep the money you borrow saved away until you pay it back in full. At the end of the loan, you get the amount you've paid in full, so you're really saving and building credit simultaneously.

Look Into Cosigned Credit

If someone with strong credit is willing to cosign a loan with you, evidence of responsible repayment will be reflected in both parties' credit reports. It's a great way to get a loan you couldn't obtain on your own, and build credit while you're at it.

Become an Authorized User

If someone adds you as an authorized user to their current line of credit, you can benefit from their solid payment history. Many parents use this option to help their children establish or improve their credit histories.

 

In taking these steps, you’ll need to keep close watch of your various debt obligations. That can get complicated if you’re working through paperwork from multiple lenders. Refinancing is a great option for those looking to streamline their loans with a single lender, and even save on interest while you’re at it.

Rethinking your range

Whichever range your credit occupies currently, we hope this guide clarifies your score’s interest implications. Even if the facts we’ve presented don’t seem like particularly good news, there’s power in knowing just how much your credit score could be costing you. There’s no reason to believe your score is set in stone, even if you’ve made significant mistakes in managing your credit before. With consistent and timely payments, you can build a body of evidence that will convince lenders to see you – and your score – differently.

If you’re eager to improve your credit or are just looking for solid financial tips given your current range, Nitro has you covered. We offer comprehensive personal finance advice to keep your confidence high, even when your credit score is low. Explore our resources to learn more about making smart choices with your money.

Published in: Credit Score

About the Author
Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor is a content writer and editor with expertise in law and policy, finance, and entrepreneurship. She writes for startups and small businesses about everything from bookkeeping to telecom. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and SheKnows.com. She is continuing to pay off law school loans and lives in Richmond, Vermont with her wife, son, and an unruly dog. Read more by Katie Taylor

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