What is a Good Credit Score?

What is a Good Credit Score?

By Daniel Lewis

The concept of a credit score is one that seems to be laden with myths and misconceptions. In this article, we’re going to run through these myths and give you a thorough understanding as to what makes a good credit score, how to raise your credit score, and what to avoid when establishing a good credit rating. We will define what a good credit score actually is and how you can raise yours in the most direct manner possible.

What are Credit Scores Anyway?

Understanding and Raising Credit ScoreThe credit scoring system underpins business and finance in the USA. It is an essential means of determining how reliable a person or business is. Without this system, it would be nearly impossible to determine who to lend capital to. Lenders need a way of rating applicants.

Credit scores are used to apply for loans of all kinds, as well as mortgages. Not only will the credit score determine whether or not you get a loan – it will determine the all-important rate of interest, and how much you pay for the loan in total. The better your credit rating, the lower the rates you will get. You may also benefit from an expedited loan process with a better credit score.

American citizens need to get loans for a variety of reasons – going to university, buying a car, starting a business, etc. And without a good credit score, they might not be able to access these fundamental functions. Some employers will even check your credit history to see if you are fit for the role, and insurance companies will nearly always check them when evaluating your application. The bottom line is that everybody needs a credit score, and it is better to have a good one.

How Are Credit Scores Calculated?

Credit Scores CalculatedThere are two major credit scoring systems in the USA – FICO and VantageScore. You only need to be familiar with these two in most instances. However, bear in mind that there are many subcategories of these scoring systems, and they are regularly updated.

Each of these major credit institutions has their own individual criteria for the purposes of evaluating a credit score. It can get a little complex, but once you understand the fundamentals you can raise your credit score, as long as you are patient and persistent.

There are also three credit reporting agencies, which are distinct from the credit scoring systems. The 3 major credit reporting agencies are:

  1. Experian – Check your credit score with Experian
  2. Equifax
  3. TransUnion

More detail on these credit agencies is given below. But they have data on hundreds of millions of Americans and use this data to calculate credit scores. Each of these credit bureaus will have different information on each individual or business. Your credit score can change over time, depending on the data that the credit bureaus have on you, as reported by commercial and Federal entities.

Factors Affecting Credit Score

There are a number of factors affecting a given credit score. These include:

  • Your payment history (missed v on-time payments)
  • The total amount of outstanding debt
  • Your credit utilization ratio
  • The number  of credit accounts you own
  • The different types of credit you own
  • The total age of your accounts

Credit Score FactorsThese are the basic and most important criteria. But what you need to remember is that payment history is the most important. Lenders want to know if you make all of your payments on time. This shows that even if you have a large number of accounts and huge outstanding debt, you still have the capability to make your payments. And this is what financial institutions love – you are in debt, but still, make payments. Both FICO and VantageScore have stated that payment history is the most important criteria for assigning a credit score.

Of course, the other factors are also taken into account. You might have a 100% payment history from a 12-month loan of $5,000. There is not enough data here and your payment score cannot be very high with such a short record. The credit utilization ratio is also quite important, accounting for over 30% of a rating. It is the sum of what you own on your total credit available. So if you have a credit limit of $1,000 and a debt of $500 on that line, then your credit utilization ratio is 50%. This is one reason why you may not wish to blindly close your credit cards.

Moreover, just because you have a history of making payments on time does not mean that you will remain solvent forever. Lending institutions are always looking to manage risk and avoid black swan events.

What Is a FICO Score?

ficoFICO (“The Fair Isaac Corporation”) is the most widely used of all credit scoring systems, by a large margin. According to the FICO website, this scoring system is used in 90% of all lending decisions by the top lenders. It has been in operation since the 1950s and has something of a monopoly on the market.

FICO takes the data from the 3 credit bureaus and then assigns credit scores. It runs computations on past data to generate the appropriate levels of risk for each individual entity, and how likely each person is to repay a loan on time. Remember, lending institutions are looking for one thing only – to assess how likely you are to repay the loan. It is a game of statistics and probability. As per the FICO credit scoring system, a good credit score is 670 and above.

FICO ScoreClassification% of PeopleDescription
< 580Poor16%Risky borrower. Well below average. Usually avoided by lenders unless there are significant safeguards in place.
580 – 669Fair17%Below average defined as ‘subprime borrower’. Will often qualify for loans with high-interest rates, penalties, and collateral.
670 – 739Good21%Average or slightly above average. Most lenders consider this a good score.
740 – 799Very Good25%Very dependable and reliable borrower.
800 +Exceptional21%An incredibly low risk borrow with a fantastic credit rating. Will get the lowest rates.

Keep in mind that there are a large number of people with no credit score at all. So if the sum total of the US population was calculated, then the percentages above would all go down, and the ‘Very Good’ and ‘Exceptional’ categories would shrink substantially. 21% of US citizens certainly do not have an 800+ credit scores. But 21% of those with a registered FICO credit score do.

What Is a VantageScore?

VantageScoreVantageScore was actually developed by the 3 major credit bureaus. The credit scoring system with VantageScore is a lot different than FICO, ranging from 300 – 850. However, there are still 5 major categories to assess an application – ‘Very Poor’, ‘Poor’, ‘Fair’, ‘Good’, ‘Excellent’. About 60% of US citizens with a credit score have a ‘Fair’ or better VantageScore rating.

Below is a table for more details on the current VantageScore version 4.0, distinct from the older model which ranged from 501 to 990. Like FICO, VantageScore is constantly updating its system.

VantageScoreClassification% of PeopleDescription
300 – 499Very Poor5%Risky applicants that are unlikely to be approved for credit
500 – 600Poor21%Subprime borrowers that will get loans with steep terms and conditions
601 – 660Fair13%Average or slightly above average applicants that will be approved for most loans with reasonable rates
661 – 780Good38%Will qualify for practically all loans with very good rates
781 – 850Excellent23%The most reliable applicants that are highly unlikely to miss a single payment or go into default.

While FICO is definitely the most dominant scoring system, VantageScore is increasing in popularity. It was designed specifically to challenge FICO and its monopoly on the market. VantageScore has actually broken down what factors determine its credit rating system.

Payment history
Credit age and mix
Credit utilization
Recent credit applications
Available credit

Understanding Credit Reports

If you are looking to raise your credit score, then you will definitely want to request a credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies. You can do this for free and without having an effect on your credit rating score. But you are only entitled to one free report every year.

This is known as a ‘soft’ inquiry. For information on how to get your free report. The credit bureau will list the 5 most obvious reasons that your credit report is not higher, which is very useful for those trying to understand their credit scores.

A ‘hard’ inquiry occurs when you request a credit report more frequently or when your lender pulls your credit report after you make an application for a loan. Unfortunately, you have to be careful here. It can have a negative impact on your credit score, though the effects are not huge. Employers and insurance companies may also pull hard inquiries.

If you apply for a mortgage loan or a credit card, the lender will check your credit score with a hard inquiry, though this can only be done with your permission. The reason a hard inquiry can affect your credit score is because they typically mean that you are looking at new kinds of credit. So if you have a lot of hard inquiries it means you be opening a lot of new accounts, which can impact your score.

Proven Techniques to Raise Your Credit Score

Raising your credit score is not rocket science. All you have to do, literally, is make payments on time and pay down your total outstanding debt. However, it does take time. A good strategy could be to take out a single loan and make payments on time each month.

After a year or so, your credit score should rise. But realistically, you will want to have at least 2 to 3 years of making every payment. This will look very, very good to the reporting agencies. There is not much more to it than this – for example, you must pay back your utility bills on time, as they can be factored in.

Remember, it is best to have one or two credit accounts at the most and to focus on paying these back. Having too many different types of credit does not look good from the lenders’ perspective. They are really looking for a focused person with one or two types of credit and a long history of making payments on time, every time.

You might also want to consider disputing your credit score, once you have you received them from the credit bureaus. According to a 2012 report by the Federal Trade Commission, over 25% of US citizens found errors on their reports, which could affect their scores. To dispute a credit error, you can contact the credit bureau by mail or online. It can take up to 45 days for a response. The bureau must furnish you with the results of their investigation along with a free copy of the updated credit report if it there was an error.

Debunking Myths About Credit Scores

There are many myths surrounding credit scores. Here are just some of them:

  • Not having a credit card will give you better credit – This is false. Effective use of credit cards will increase your credit score. It depends on whether you pay back the credit on time.
  • Income is related to credit score – This is false. The credit bureaus do not actually have access to your annual income and total annual income has zero impact on your score.
  • It’s ok to miss a payment here and there – This is false. Aim to never miss a single payment. It is the most important factor in terms of a credit score.
  • It’s impossible to get a loan or credit card without credit – This is false. There are many providers for loans and credit cards for people without credit. You can also use a co-signer or a secured loan if you don’t have credit.
  • It’s always good to close unused accounts – This is false. But it is also a little complicated. Closing credit accounts might help your credit score, but it also affects your credit utilization ratio, which could lower your score. Age is also a factor, so it might not be good to close an old account that increases the history of your credit.

FICO complexities

FICO is by far the most relevant credit scoring system used by many lenders. But that certainly does not make things any easier to manage. Consider that:

  • FICO updates its methodology, currently on version 9. Many institutions still rely on version 8.
  • The information is constantly shifting and changing as the credit bureaus get updated information which is then scraped by FICO. This is partially why it takes such a long time to raise a credit rating.
  • There are industry-specific and FICO credit scores relating, such as auto-related FICO scores and credit card FICO scores.

There are actually a total of 28 different FICO scores that a lender can use to evaluate your loan application. You cannot keep track of all of them – your best bet is to simply focus on meeting your existing payments on time. You have no way of knowing what your specific FICO scores are unless you pay a fee to FICO, and you cannot know which ones your lenders are going to look at.

The three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) will also have their own credit score. These credit scores are aggregated by FICO for an overall (and more highly regarded) score.

What to Do Without a ‘Good’ Credit Score?

For the majority of lenders, you really only need a ‘Fair’ credit score. For example, to get a loan with OnDeck, the credit requirement is 600, and is only 580 with LendingClub. These are two of the biggest online lenders. Loanbuilder only requires 550, while Kabbage and Fundbox have zero minimum credit requirements. The point being, while it is always good to get your credit scores are high as possible, options are available. These lenders use the FICO lending system primarily.

Remember, the aim is not to simply get a loan. Even if you can get a loan with a very poor credit score, the rates are going to be pretty steep. This is how the lending platform offsets the increased risk of a poor credit rating.

It is best to stick with the lenders above if you have poor or no credit history. There are a large number of loan sharks in operation that promise a good deal. But they can come with insane rates and penalties for missed payments. These platforms are designed to prey on vulnerable or unreliable applicants. In some instances, it might be best to wait it out until you are in a better position.


A good credit score as per the FICO system is 670 an above. This is the minimum score you will need to get the top loan, such as the SBA(7)(a). But you can get excellent online loans with poor credit – 550 with Loan Builder and 580 with Lending Club. And no credit is required with Fundbox or Kabbage. With VantageScore, a ‘Good’ rating is 660 and above. The scores are different, but the 5 categories are almost identical between the two credit rating systems.

Those with poor credit should not wander too far from reputable lenders, or they could find themselves in a  difficult situation with an aggressive loan shark. Stick to the platforms mentioned above (Ondeck, Kabbage, Loan Builder, Kabbage, Fundbox) if you have a poor credit score, as you are entering dangerous waters. For more information on getting a loan with poor credit, check out our page; Best Small Business Loans for Bad Credit. Or, check our loan finder.

Daniel Lewis
Daniel Lewis
Daniel Lewis is an MBA accredited investment professional who wants to assist small business owners to gain access to finance. After going through many channels for funding, Lewis has found that getting the first loan right is vitally important for future success.