If you’re preparing to apply for a mortgage loan, you’re likely concerned about your credit score — and rightly so. Credit scores are incredibly crucial factors in the mortgage lending process. At the same time, they can be quite confusing to the average credit card user. So, what is a perfect credit score?
Continue reading for a full understanding of credit scores and how you can achieve the highest one possible:
What Is a Credit Score?
A credit score between 300 and 850 shows how trustworthy you are as a borrower and how likely you are to pay back loans on time without defaulting. Effectively, these credit score ranges show lenders how risky of a borrower you are. The type of credit score is used to determine your creditworthiness for a variety of different lending scenarios.
What Are the Three Credit Bureaus?
There are three main credit bureaus that operate in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each of these different bureaus collects the same information about consumers but uses a slightly different formula to calculate credit scores. For example, Experian uses FICO 2, Equifax uses FICO 5, and TransUnion uses FICO 4.
What Are Credit Scores Used for?
Your credit score is critical. A good credit score helps ensure that you are able to borrow money when needed, whether that’s through credit or loans.
New Credit Cards
Your credit score is looked at when you apply for a new credit card. Credit card companies want to make sure that you will actually pay back what you spend, and as a result, they look at your credit score to see how you manage your current accounts.
Your credit score is one of the big players when you apply for a mortgage loan. Mortgage lenders are extremely risk-averse since they’re lending you hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a result, they want to see good credit scores that show that you’re a low-risk borrower who will pay them back.
Your credit score is also used when you apply for an auto loan for the same reason. With the prices of cars skyrocketing, more people than ever (85%) are financing new car purchases rather than paying for them upfront in cash.
This means that if you want to buy a car, odds are you’re going to need a loan which is going to require a good credit score.
How Are Credit Scores Determined?
Five different categories influence credit scores: payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit mix, and new credit. Here’s what you need to know about each category so that you can understand exactly how your score is calculated:
1. Payment History
The most critical component of your credit score is your payment history, as it makes up 35% of your score. Ultimately, lenders want to guarantee that when they give you a loan, you’re going to pay it back according to your agreed-upon terms.
Specifically, payment history looks at your on-time payments. Any late payments will be a red flag for lenders and will negatively impact your credit score.
2. Amounts Owed
After payment history, the second factor looks at what you currently owe. This may also be called your credit utilization ratio, which is calculated by comparing the amount that you owe with your total available credit.
To avoid negatively impacting your credit, it’s best to keep your credit utilization ratio as low as possible — preferably below 30%. Interestingly enough, your credit utilization ratio makes up 30% of your credit score.
3. Length of Credit History
The third most important component of your credit score is the length of your credit history. This component shows how long you’ve been using credit, the age of your newest account, and the average age of all your accounts. It examines how long you’ve held each account and how long it’s been since you used each account.
Unfortunately, this component is the most difficult for you to control since you can’t exactly go back in time and apply for a credit card earlier. The good news is that the length of your credit history doesn’t weigh as heavily on your overall credit score compared to your credit history and your amounts owed, as it only makes up 15% of your credit score.
4. Credit Mix
Next is your credit mix, making up 10% of your total credit score. Your credit mix takes into account the “diversity” of your credit. For example, a diverse credit profile would include credit cards and retail accounts as well as student loans, auto loans, and mortgage loans. And while you definitely don’t need to have one of each to achieve a good credit score, you should try to mix it up as much as possible.
5. New Credit
Last but not least is any new credit accounts that have been recently opened, also making up 10% of your total score. When you complete an application for a new credit card or loan, the institution will check your credit to ensure that you’re a qualified borrower. These inquiries show up on your credit report and are used to calculate your credit score.
A significant amount of credit inquiries in a brief period might negatively impact your credit score. Remember that this is a guideline, not an ultimate rule.
Hypothetically, say that you’re looking to buy a house and apply for a mortgage. It’s always a good idea to shop around with different lenders to make sure that you’re getting the best interest rate and closing costs.
When you shop around with multiple different lenders within a specific time, usually somewhere between 30 and 60 days, these multiple inquiries for the same loan are counted as a single inquiry.
As a result, shopping around for a mortgage loan will not cause your credit score to drop substantially, although you may see a small drop of a few points due to the new inquiry.
What Is the Highest Credit Score Possible?
Now, it’s time to talk about what these numbers actually mean — to you and to lenders. A perfect score is 850, but don't feel pressured to hit this number. Excellent credit scores do not need to be perfect.
What Is a “Good” Credit Score?
While 850 is considered a “perfect” credit score, your score doesn’t necessarily have to be at this level to be considered a “good” credit score. In fact, a credit score between 670 and 739 is considered “good,” whereas a high credit score between 740 and 799 is considered “very good.” Anything above 800 is considered ”exceptional.”
The average credit score in America in 2021 was 714, which is considered “good.” 67% of Americans have a credit score that’s considered “good” or better.
What Is a “Bad” Credit Score?
We’ve covered the good; now we need to talk about the bad. A credit score between 580 and 669 is categorized as “fair,” while a credit score between 300 and 579 is deemed to be “poor.”
The good news is that a vast majority of Americans’ scores do not fall into this group — with 16% having “poor” credit scores and 17% having “fair” credit scores.
What Credit Score Do You Need to Buy a House?
As you now know, your credit score is a key component of applying for a mortgage loan because lenders want to make sure that they’re only lending to the most qualified buyers who they can trust will pay them back. But how do they use your credit score to determine who is a trustworthy borrower and who isn’t?
The minimum credit score you need to buy a house actually varies by loan type and lender. For example, if you’re looking for a conventional mortgage loan that’s not backed by the federal government, you will need a credit score of at least 620.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for an FHA loan that is backed by the government, you either need a credit score of at least 580 if you’re putting 3.5% down or 500 if you’re putting at least 10% down.
VA loans also backed by the government and available to members of the armed services and veterans require a credit score of at least 620 to qualify. Higher credit scores can result in lower interest rates, which, in turn, can result in major savings.
It's not just buying homes that can be affected by a bad credit score. A high credit score can lower the security deposit you need to put on an apartment.
Is It Possible To Achieve the Highest Credit Score?
Keeping in mind that the average credit score in the United States is 714, is it even possible for you to achieve the highest credit score of 850? The answer is yes. In fact, 1.2% of Americans currently have a credit score of 850.
Tips To Improve Your Credit Score
If you want to shoot for the stars and reach an 850 credit score, here are some tips to help you boost your credit score:
Step 1: Verify the Information on Your Credit Report
It is recommended that you double-check your credit report and make sure that everything is accurate. If there are any inconsistencies, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau to have it corrected.
Step 2: Establish Accounts If Necessary
If you don’t yet have any credit or don’t have a good mix of credit, you may need to head to a credit card issuer and establish some accounts. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t go crazy and apply for ten credit cards in one month, or you will negatively impact the “new credit” component of your credit score.
Step 3: Make On-Time Payments
Once you start using your credit, you need to be sure that you’re making on-time payments. To easily accomplish this, schedule payments in advance, or if possible, set up auto-pay so you won't accidentally forget to pay your bills. Paying your cell phone, utilities, and other bills can boost your score.
Step 4: Pay Down Your Balances
While you can get by making the minimum payments on your accounts, it’s better for your credit score to pay down your balances more aggressively. Additionally, this approach can help you avoid racking up tons of interest.
Step 5: Increase Your Credit Limits
If possible, you should also try to increase your credit limits on your existing accounts without having to apply for a new account. This is a fantastic path to increasing your available credit and effectively decreasing your credit utilization ratio.
Step 6: Limit Your New Credit Inquiries
Finally, you need to limit your inquiries for new accounts. Hard inquiries stay on your credit report for two years and can affect your score for one year. As a result, you should avoid applying for too many different accounts within a short period of time.
Even if your credit score isn’t quite 850 yet, you can still apply for a loan with lenders like Vaster. Vaster is a private lender that offers flexibility in terms of qualification requirements like credit scores.
If you’re not sure if you qualify, reach out to one of our lending experts today to learn more and get your home buying journey started.
What's in My FICO Scores? | My FICO
What is a Good Credit Score? Credit Score Ranges Explained | Credit.org
How to Improve Credit Fast | NerdWallet