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What is your credit score — and what is a good credit score?

Your credit score uses data on how you’ve handled debt in the past to predict your likelihood of repaying a future loan or credit card balance. The higher your score, the better you look to potential creditors. Your score affects whether you get approved for credit and sometimes the interest rate or other charges you’ll pay. Check your free credit score to see where you stand.

The most commonly used credit scoring models range from 300 to 850. Each lender sets its own standards for what constitutes a good credit score. But, in general, scores fall along the following lines:

  • 300-629: Bad credit
  • 630-689: Fair or “average” credit
  • 690-719: Good credit
  • 720 and up: Excellent credit

Want to see how you compare? Here are the percentages of FICO® Scores and VantageScores® that fall into these score ranges: 

Range FICO Vantage
Range FICO Vantage
Sources: FICO® Score 8 data as of April 2015, from Fair Isaac Corp.
VantageScore® data as of March 2016, from Experian®.
300 - 499 4.9% 4.6% 650 - 699 13.0% 18.3%
500 - 549 7.6% 12.1% 700 - 749 16.6% 12.6%
550 - 599 9.4% 11.8% 750 - 799 18.2% 14.6%
600 - 649 10.3% 10.2% 800 - 850 19.9% 15.7%

What goes into your credit score — and what doesn’t?

Two companies dominate credit scoring in the U.S.: FICO® and VantageScore®. They calculate scores from information in your credit reports, which list your credit activity as compiled by the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®.

If you have a good VantageScore®, you’re likely to have a good FICO® Score, because both consider the same factors:

  • Payment history: your record of on-time payments and any “derogatory” marks, such as late payments, accounts sent to collections or judgments against you.
  • Credit utilization: balances you owe and how much of your available credit you’re using.
  • Age of credit history: how long you’ve been borrowing money.
  • Applications: whether you’ve applied for a lot of credit recently.
  • Type of credit: how many and what kinds of credit accounts you have, such as credit cards, installment debt (such as mortgage and car loans) or a mix.

A credit score doesn’t consider your income, savings or job security. That’s why lenders also may consider what you owe alongside what you earn and assets you have accumulated.

Why does your credit score matter?

With a low score, you may still be able to get credit, but it will come with higher interest rates or with specific conditions, such as depositing money to get a secured credit card.

You also may have to pay more for car insurance or put down deposits on utilities. Landlords might use your score to decide whether they want you as a tenant.

But as you add points to your score, you’ll have access to more credit products — and pay less to use them. And borrowers with scores above 750 or so have many options, including the ability to qualify for 0% financing on cars and 0% interest credit cards.

How can you build your credit score?

The two biggest factors in your score are payment history and credit utilization (how much of your available credit you’re using). That’s why they come first in this list of ways to boost your credit:

  • Pay all your bills, not just credit cards, on time. You don’t want late payments or worse, a debt collection or legal judgment against you, on your credit reports.
  • Keep the balance on each credit card at 30% of your available credit or lower.
  • Keep accounts open and active if possible; that will help your length of payment history and credit utilization.
  • Avoid opening too many new accounts at once; new accounts lower your average account age.
  • Check your credit report and dispute any errors you find.

It pays to monitor your score over time. Always check the same score — otherwise, it’s like trying to monitor your weight on different scales — and use the methods outlined above to build whichever score you track.

And like weight, your score may fluctuate. As long as you keep it in a healthy range, those variations won’t have a major impact on your financial well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I don’t have a credit score?

If you’ve never had a credit card or loan, you probably won’t have a score. And people who haven’t used credit in years can become “credit invisible.”

You are likely to have a VantageScore® before you have a FICO® Score. That’s because VantageScore® uses alternative data — such as rent or utility payments, if they’re reported to the bureaus — and looks back 24 months for activity. FICO® 8, the scoring model most widely used in lending decisions, looks back only six months and doesn’t use alternative data.

How does NerdWallet get my score?

NerdWallet partners with TransUnion® to provide your VantageScore® 3.0, based on information in your TransUnion® credit report. Your score and credit report information is updated weekly.

Is my credit score really free?

Yes! You can sign in to NerdWallet at any time to see your free credit score, your free credit report information and more.

Is my information safe?

NerdWallet uses state-of-the-art, 256 bit encryption to keep your information safe. We will never share or sell your information.

Learn more about your credit

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Add 100 Points to Your Credit Score

If you’re looking to save money, chances are you’ve given regular household expenses a once-over and tried to find items to cut. But you might save even more long term by working on your credit.

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How Long Do Negative Marks Stay on Your Credit Report?

Make a misstep that’s affecting your credit? Find out how long negative marks might last, and what you can do about them.

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If you’re one of the 25% of Americans with an error on your credit report, you may be in for a nasty surprise the next time you apply for a loan.

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Note: FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation.