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Taking a look at 'good' credit

Depending on whom you ask, "good" credit will start at a different place on the scale, even with the same type of score.

Consider these diverse views:
  • On a 300 to 850 scale, "Lenders are going to be looking for something 650 and above to be able to offer you a favorable rate," says Steve Katz, spokesman for TransUnion.
  • With a FICO score, "Anything about 690 is considered pretty good," says Linda Sherry, director of National Priorities for Consumer Action, a D.C.-based advocacy group.
  • "Any score above 700 is considered a very good score," says Gail Cunningham, senior director of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling Service.
  • Anything in the range of "720-plus is pretty good," says Garkey.
  • But Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, puts someone with a 650 to 699 FICO score in the "marginal" category. When that same consumer hits 700 and up, that's when he or she can expect to get better offers for credit cards, he says.

Afraid your number is too low? You can't always tell, especially these days. While some lenders would see a specific number and decline credit, "others will go after you," says Sweet.

While one bank might give a consumer with a certain FICO score favorable rates, another could put that same person into the subprime lending category. The lesson here: Know your scores, and then shop around.

What lenders want to see
Even though the formulas will vary, and lenders will look for different numbers, five basic criteria will usually play a big part in determining your scores and credit worthiness:

  1. Payment history
  2. Percentage of available credit you're using
  3. Length of your credit history
  4. Your recent efforts to get more credit
  5. Mix of credit types you use

Different lenders or institutions will give different weight to various factors when they develop their formulas. At FICO, which is used in the majority of mortgage applications, here's the breakdown:

The breakdown:
  • Payment history: 35 percent
  • Current balances: 30 percent
  • Length of credit history: 15 percent
  • Mix of credit/other factors: 10 percent

If lenders believe that other factors correlate to a higher or lower risk, they may include those in their formula. Some examples: how long you've been at your job, your income, if you have a phone in your name, or whether you rent or own your car or home.

But forget trying to predict the "right" response. Depending on the lender or type of loan, the creditor may want to see a different answer.

What they legally can't consider: gender, race, ethnicity or age (if you're over 65).

Learning your credit score, and what that number means in the real world, "empowers you during the application process," says Arnold. "If you don't know your score, you don't know what you can expect. You're venturing into the whole process blindfolded."

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