Good, better, best. Experts say by turning a good credit score into a great one can save borrowers thousands of dollars when they buy a new car, take out a mortgage and use credit cards.
By the numbers: Tens of millions of Americans have credit scores that are just under the highest range. Some 32.8 million people have FICO scores between 700 and 749, on a scale of 300 to 850; another 36.4 million people have scores between 750 and 799. About 38.6 million are in the 800 to 850 range and roughly 1% of the people with FICO scores (around 2 million individuals) have a perfect 850.
According to Ethan Dornhelm, principal scientist at Fair Isaac, also known as FICO, there are two fast ways to boost your FICO score. (WSJ: 1.10.2015) In some cases these moves can help raise a borrower’s score within as little as a month.
- Spend less on your credit cards; and
- Pay off card balances.
If you want a FICO score of 800 or above, you should aim for a “debt-to-limit ratio” of no more than 10%. For example, if your total spending limit on all credit cards is $50,000, try to use no more than $5,000 at any one time.
Know Your Limits. As for increasing your spending limits, pay attention to the offers you receive from card issuers. More issuers have been telling existing cardholders they are eligible for increases in the past year or two. But, if you want to boost your FICO score, don’t use that extra credit.
Beware of store credit cards – they tend to come with relatively low spending limits. Instead consider using charge cards, such as those issued by American Express, as their balances often aren’t included in the credit-card debt-to-limit ratio in certain FICO scores that lenders use.
Take the Long View. Other strategies can take months or years to boost your score, which is worth keeping in mind if you are planning to make a major purchase such as a house or a car down the road.
Building a credit history and demonstrating an ability to manage different types of debt, such as credit cards, car loans and mortgages, take time.
The Good News. If you manage debt responsibly, your FICO score should increase and the benefit should endure for years. When borrowers successfully pay off car loans or mortgages, the information stays on their credit reports for 10 years from the date of the last payment, according to credit-reporting firms.
Important Exception. If you miss payments or default on a loan, that information stays on your credit report for seven years.