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Get to know your credit score


Get to know your credit score

By NerdWallet, reviewed by Liz Weston. Updated July 1, 2022.
What goes into my free credit score — and what doesn't?
When you or a lender "check your credit," a scoring model from either FICO® or VantageScore® is applied to the current data in one of your credit reports. Your score will vary, depending on which FICO® or VantageScore® version was used and whether it looked at your credit report from Experian®, Equifax® or TransUnion®. Your credit score can vary month to month or day to day as new data get sent to your credit reports.

NerdWallet uses VantageScore® 3.0 and your TransUnion® credit report data. Most lending decisions are made using the FICO® model. If you have a good VantageScore®, you may also have a good FICO® score — and both will respond to the same basic rules for managing your credit score. That's because they consider similar factors, with some differences in how they weight them:

Payment history: your record of on-time payments and any negative marks, such as missed payments, accounts sent to collections or bankruptcies.

Credit utilization: balances you owe and how much of your available credit you're using.

Age of credit history: how long you've been using credit.

Applications: how frequently you've applied for 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 does not consider your income, savings or job security. That’s why, in addition to your credit score, lenders also may check what you owe, how much you earn and assets you have.
What is my credit score — and why does it matter?
Your credit score is a number lenders and credit card issuers use to help them decide whether to approve your credit application. The higher your score, the better your chances.

With a low score, you may still be able to get credit, but it may come with higher interest rates or require a co-signer or security deposit. 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 gain access to more credit products — and pay less to use them. Borrowers with scores above 750 or so (on a typical 300-850 scale) have many options, including the potential to qualify for 0% financing on cars and credit cards with 0% introductory interest rates.
What can I do with my credit?
When your credit is strong, you have a better chance at qualifying for credit cards and loans and getting the best interest rates. Good credit also can save you money. You may qualify for better cell phone deals, pay smaller (or no) utility deposits and pay less for insurance, for example. And some employers and landlords consider credit as well.
How are credit scores and credit reports different? What are the three credit bureaus?
Your credit reports are a record of how you’ve used credit in the past. Credit scores, in turn, interpret the information in your credit reports to estimate the likelihood that you will repay borrowed money. Information about your credit is collected by the three major credit bureaus, Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®, as well as some smaller companies. It’s important to check your reports for accuracy so errors aren’t hurting your credit scores.
What is a good credit score? What are the credit score ranges?
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:

Excellent credit: 720 and higher

Good credit: 690-719

Fair credit: 630-689

Bad credit: 629 or lower

If you're just starting out or haven't used credit in at least six months, you might not have a score. Don't worry, NerdWallet has a guide to help you get started with building credit.
How can I build my credit score?
The two biggest factors in your credit score are paying on time and managing how much of your credit limits you're using. That’s why they come first in this list of tips:

Pay all your bills, not just credit cards, on time. Late payments and accounts charged off or sent to collections will hurt your score.

Use no more than 30% of your credit limit on any card — less, if possible. The best scores go to people using 10% or less of their credit limits.

Keep accounts open and active when possible — that gives you a longer payment history and can help your "credit utilization," or how much of your limits you're using.

Avoid opening too many new accounts at once. New accounts lower your average account age and each application causes a small ding to your score. We recommend spacing credit applications about 6 months apart. Make sure you conduct thorough research on the best credit card for your needs before applying.

Check your credit reports and dispute errors.
What if I'm just starting out?
Maybe you're just starting out and haven't built up any credit history yet. It can be hard to get credit when you don't have enough history to generate a score, but there are strategies and products that can help people just starting out.

It'll take a few months to generate a score, and then you can follow the tips above and watch your progress on your NerdWallet dashboard.
What can hurt my credit score?
Paying late or running up higher-than-normal credit card balances can hurt your credit score. It takes longer to recover from a late payment, which can stay on your credit reports for up to seven years. But the damage from a high balance disappears after you’ve brought the balance down.

Other negative marks on your credit reports can come from defaulting on an account (not paying as agreed), being sent to collections, having a repossession or foreclosure, or filing for bankruptcy.
Get to know your credit score

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