Credit score ranges: What do they mean?

You’ve got your credit score and all it is is a three-digit number. Is it good? Bad? What will it get you approved for? The unfortunate truth is that it depends and we can’t give you a universal answer. What we can give is a little bit of insight and a rough guide to figuring out what your score is actually worth.

Where to find your credit score

Before we move onto reading credit score ranges, let’s first  figure out how to find your true credit score. If you have your credit score and you are certain it’s from a reliable source, then skip ahead to the next segment. If not, then let’s go over a couple of ways to get your credit score for free.

From a credit card

Most banks give out free credit scores. If you do have a credit card from one of those banks, then your score can be found either on your monthly statement or by logging in to your client account.


From a bank

Some banks go as far as to provide free credit scores even to non-clients. They’ve set up separate pages where you could use your Social Security number (SSN) to create an account and access your credit score. Discover, Chase, and Capital One are among the banks offering this feature to non-clients.


From a specialized website

Various financial literacy websites can access your credit information straight from credit bureaus. Same as with banks, you’d have to use your SSN to sign up. Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Quizzle are among the most popular websites offering free credit scores and financial advice.

How to read your credit score

The easy and massively flawed answer is that anything near or above 700 points is good and anything below 700 points is bad. It’s not as simple as that, however; to get a better answer, read the rest of this article.

Your credit score model

The first thing you have to know is which scoring model has been used to calculate your credit score. Different scoring models have different ranges, and the same score may mean different things. Two major scoring models are FICO Score and VantageScore. Both of them have a range that goes from 300 to 850 points. FICO Score also has several subtypes, though, where ranges may start at 150 and go all the way up to 950 points. No need to worry about those subtypes, however; it’s very rare to encounter one of them in your daily life.

The first thing you have to know is which scoring model has been used to calculate your credit score. Different scoring models have different ranges, and the same score may mean different things.

Where you fall on the range

While both FICO Score and VantageScore have the same range of 300-850, within that range they have different thresholds for what’s a good or a bad score. Please consult the table below for the exact numbers.

Brackets

FICO Score

VantageScore

Excellent

800-850

750-850

Very good

740-799

700-749

Good

670-739

650-699

Poor

580-669

550-649

Very poor

300-579

300-549

Excellent/very good

In terms of available credit products, there is little difference between having a very good and an excellent credit score. At this level, you can have pretty much any credit product you want. The rates, however, might be marginally better for people at the higher end of excellent. So there is still some incentive for improving your credit score even further. Keep in mind that an excellent score is a fragile thing—it is quick to drop, but hard to grow. The only way to make this score better is by maintaining good financial habits for years on end and not letting a single derogatory mark slip through.

Good

Most Americans find themselves in this credit score bracket. Having a good score will give you access to a wide range of credit products, though some premium travel cards might be out of reach. As with excellent credit score, the higher you are within the bracket, the better your interest rates are going to be. To this end, it is possible to make a good score better with a few quick adjustments. Although at this level, it’s mostly about maintaining the course of good financial management and letting time do the rest.

Poor/very poor

People with scores in the lower end of the range will probably struggle to get approved for credit of any kind. Even when they do, the costs are going to be prohibitively high. The good news is that a poor credit score, unlike an excellent one, is quick to improve. While extensive advice exists on raising your credit score, our number one suggestion would be to get a low threshold credit card and use it responsibly for at least 12 months. Nothing else would be as effective as this.

Our favorite picks for that occasion are Discover it® Secured Card and Capital One® Secured Mastercard®—top of the range secured credit cards for anyone trying to build their credit score. And, just in case, there is also OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card—one of the few secured credit cards that don’t bother with a credit check and are easier to get approved for.

A word of caution

With your credit score, there is always some margin of error. There is no guarantee that the company you apply for credit at is going to use the same score that you did. They might pull your information from a different agency. They might use a different scoring model. The score they’ve got might be dozens of points off from the one you’ve checked.

On top of that, each credit company is free to set up their own thresholds for what a good credit score is. They don’t have to use FICO or VantageScore guidelines. In other words, reading your own credit score will give you nothing better than an approximation of your financial standing and does not guarantee a credit application outcome.

The bottom line

Credit score is the easiest way to keep track of your credit health. All you have to do is find a reliable source for tracking your credit score and use our guide to interpret how well you are doing. Don’t forget that the work of improving your credit score is never done. There is always another angle to try to improve it. Good luck!

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