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What are the Different Credit Score Ranges? Bad to Excellent and Everything In Between

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Financial experts constantly encourage us to build and maintain good credit. The trouble is, they don’t always explain the what and the why behind that advice. A little additional information can go a long way in helping you take your credit score to the next level.

What is a credit score?

Your credit score is a 3-digit number that reflects the information on your credit report, a document that details your personal history with handling borrowed money. The purpose of your credit score is to help lenders evaluate how risky a borrower you are.

The most commonly used credit scoring algorithm in the U.S. is produced by the Fair Isaac Corp. FICO scores range from 300 to 850: the higher the score, the better.

Every lender sets its own standards for what constitutes a “good” FICO score. But, in general, FICO scores fall along the following lines:

300-629: Bad credit
630-689: Average/fair credit
690-719: Good credit
720 and up: Excellent credit

To build and maintain a good score, it’s essential to start using credit responsibly as soon as you can. This means paying your bills on time, keeping the balances on your cards low, and applying for new credit sparingly.

Why your credit score matters

Your FICO score is one of the most important data points lenders look at when they’re deciding whether to give you a loan or a credit card. Additionally, it’s used in determining the interest rate you’ll pay on loans you qualify for. The higher your FICO score, the more likely you are to get credit on affordable terms.

Keep in mind that your credit history is used in other finance-related situations, too. For example, many landlords run a credit check before deciding whether to rent to you. Also, most car insurers use a credit-based insurance score when determining your rates.

Consequently, keeping your credit in good shape should be a top priority.

A credit card for every score

One of the easiest ways to build or rebuild your score is getting a credit card and using it carefully. But your current credit will hugely influence the card you’re able to get. Here are some options to consider based on your FICO score:

If your credit is excellent: Citi®Double Cash Card

Citibank Citi® Double Cash Card Credit Card
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on Citibank's
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Folks with excellent credit will usually qualify for just about any credit card they’re interested in. One great choice is the Citi®Double Cash Card. With it, you’ll earn 1% cash back when you make your purchases and an additional 1% cash back when you pay them off. That’s a sky-high rewards rate, and there’s no limit to the rewards you can earn.

The Citi®Double Cash Card also comes with an introductory APR deal. You’ll pay 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 22.99% (Variable).

Also, the Citi®Double Cash Card provides free monthly access to your FICO score. This is a great way to be sure your credit is staying in “excellent” territory.

All of these perks come at an annual fee of $0, which is another example of how having outstanding credit can help you save.

If your credit is good: Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom Credit Card
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on Chase's
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Good credit will get you a good deal on your credit card if you choose the Chase Freedom®. This card earns 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter) and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The Chase Freedom® also comes with an introductory APR promotion. You can expect to pay 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 22.99% (Variable)

Unlike many cash-back cards, the Chase Freedom® comes with a signup bonus: get a $100 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening Its annual fee is $0.

If your credit is average: Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard®

Barclays Rewards MasterCard - Average Credit Credit Card
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on Barclays's
secure website

It’s a little tough to find a rewards credit card if you don’t have good or excellent credit, but one option is the Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard®. With it, you’ll earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on gas, groceries and utility payments, and 1 point for every dollar spent elsewhere. Each point is worth $.01 and can be redeemed for a statement credit or gift card. There’s no limit to the points you can earn.

Like the Citi®Double Cash Card, the Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard® provides free monthly access to your FICO credit score, so you can track your progress toward improving your credit over time. Its annual fee is $0, so getting on the road to excellent credit won’t come at any additional cost.

If your credit is bad (or nonexistent): Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

When your credit history is poor or limited, you’ll likely have to opt for a secured credit card. This type of plastic requires an up-front cash deposit to “secure” your credit line in case of default. But otherwise, it functions exactly like an unsecured card. Over time, if you spend responsibly and make on-time payments, your credit will improve and you’ll be able to upgrade.

A good secured credit card is the Capital One® Secured MasterCard®. Its annual fee is lower than similar cards at annual fee is $0. Your payment history and other account activity will be reported to the 3 major credit bureaus every month, so if you use the card responsibly you can expect your FICO score to increase over time.

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® also stands out from the secured card crowd because you might be able to get a credit line without putting down a bigger deposit if you manage your account carefully. If you make the right moves, this card could be a valuable tool for getting on the fast track to good credit.

Lindsay Konsko is a staff writer covering credit cards and consumer credit for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @lkonsko and on Google+.

Image via iStock.

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  • http://creditcardjoint.com Credit card Joint

    It was a simple typo that was pointed out and fixed. NO need to get wild..

  • Paula

    My latest Experian score was 829. It has been that way for most of my adult life. Why? I have never bought anything on credit beyond my ability to pay it off at the end of the billing cycle. I don’t buy something if I don’t have the money or the income stream to pay for it. That goes when I was a student earning $200 take-home a month to now when I make about $15,000/month. You want a good credit score? Live within your means. Always. If you can’t afford it, go without it.
    You will also appreciate the things that you do have far more. I have a lot more things now than I did in my 20’s, a helluva lot more. But I don’t know that I get anymore pleasure out of the multitude than I did out of the few. In many ways, I treasured them more and got so much more pleasure. It also forced me to do things that didn’t cost much money, like spend times with friends, read books, hike and bicycle.
    Riches don’t correlate with money, nor happiness with things. So don’t try to make your self happy with things. It will only lower your credit score.

  • Paula

    I should mention also that most of the discussion that I have read in this stream focuses on the wrong thing: tactics. Pay on time, etc. Again, to elaborate on my earlier recommendations: change your understanding of from where happiness comes. Let me assure you, if you have enough to eat, and a place to live, even if it is a small one-room efficiency, you have what money can buy. In my 40’s after being layed off from a job in Texas, I moved to Bellevue, WA and lived in a tiny efficiency apartment for nearly a year. You know, the kind of apartment that has basically one room that serves as living room, dining room and bedroom. My ex was living in our old home in Dallas, while I rented a small, cheap apartment in a complex inhabited with Microsoft employees. They were from all over the world and about 10 years younger than me, married as well. The other demographic were 40-ish divorced men trying to survive. In other words, I had no other people like me in this complex, and knew no one in the entire state.
    But I made friends, got involved a local church that I found, and loved every moment of every day. I didn’t spend my way to happiness. Having little income certainly presented challenges, but I had enough to pay the rent, eat and put gas in the car, and I quickly became involved with various groups. When I look back now, I realize how rich a time in my life it was, and how little of that richness or burgeoning happiness had anything to do with the spending of money.
    So please, if you want to have a rich life, and along the way achieve a good credit score, understand what happiness money can and cannot buy. Once you have taken this lesson to heart, you will never have money worries the rest of your life almost regardless of your income.

  • Ty Osburn

    i like that for the title exactly… “Bad Credit you likely landed here, not HER fellas” ! works huh? lol