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His perfect FICO score obsession

By Polyana da Costa ·
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Posted: 7 am ET

A good credit score is usually nothing more than a financial necessity for most people. For David Howe, good wasn't good enough. He wanted a perfect credit score and obsessed over it for years.David Howe

"In the last six or seven years my score was into the 800s and I knew I was getting close," he says.

Howe says that a few weeks ago, his dream came true: an 850 FICO score. FICO scores range from 300 to 850 and achieving the highest score is extremely rare. Many people in the financial industry say they have never seen one.

"For me this is an absolutely stunning accomplishment," Howe says. "I worked on it for so long. I will continue to make sure my credit is very strong but will not obsess over it anymore. I have had a few sleepless nights because of this. It's a sense of relief for me."

Why the obsession?

Howe says the pursuit of the perfect credit score was a personal and professional goal. He is a credit manager at a company based in Massillon, Ohio, and founder of a consumer credit reporting agency that serves cable and telephone companies. But on a personal level, he has always been fascinated by the credit scoring system.

"FICO doesn't discriminate," he says, adding that income and age aren't part of the calculations that determine your score. "You can be a janitor at Walmart and have exceptional credit or a CEO with bad credit."

'Howe' did he do it?

Howe warns that he is not a FICO expert, but for those who want to improve their credit scores, here are his tips, based on his journey to achieving the perfect credit.

  • Watch your score like a hawk: Howe spent thousands of dollars over the years buying credit reports and monitoring his score. "I have my scores going back at least seven years," he says. "In the most recent three of four years I have watched every single detail."
  • Manipulate the balance and payment date on credit cards: "I know exactly when my statement is going to cross," he says. Credit card companies usually report your balance to the credit bureaus on the day of or a few days after the statement date, which is different than your due date. So even if you are paying off your credit card every month on the due date, but maintaining a high balance through the month, this can impact your score negatively, he says.
  • Avoid unnecessary inquiries: Hard inquiries can make small dents on your credit score and they appear to affect your score for up to a year, Howe says. While it's impossible to avoid inquiries when you have to apply for an auto loan, a mortgage or even a new cellphone account, don't go wild opening new credit cards, because doing so may affect your score. "I have not opened a revolving credit card account in almost a decade," he says.
  • Have a decent amount of credit: Avoiding too many credit inquiries doesn't mean don't ever open a credit card account. You've got to start somewhere but you have to know when to stop. Howe says he has 11 credit cards but uses only about four of them. On a day-to-day basis, he uses one.
  • Keep a small balance but not a zero balance: Paying off all of your credit cards won't get you a perfect credit score, Howe warns. But an extremely low balance will help. Howe says he made sure to keep a small balance on one of his credit cards. How small? He says he kept it under 7 percent of the available credit. "I always pay before my due date but I would leave, say, $30 on there," he says.
  • Pay down the mortgage: Howe says paying down his mortgage was a key factor to achieving a perfect credit score. He has paid down more than half of his 1-year-old mortgage.

David Howe"Just a month ago I was getting 845," he says. "I paid down another $6,000 on the mortgage and that additional $6,000 was the magic threshold."

You don't need a perfect score to get the best rates as a consumer. To lenders, as far as rates, there's really no difference between a 780 score and an 850. But if you are pursuing an excellent score, Howe's tips might help you.

His score wasn't always great

About 10 or 15 years ago, Howe says, his credit score was as low as 630.

"I've had some missteps," he says.

He says even if your credit history is tainted by collections, foreclosure or bankruptcy there's still ways to fix your credit if you are patient and persistent.

"If you have a bankruptcy or a foreclosure let time heal that," he says. "I've had some serious issues in the past and here I am."

Follow me on Twitter @Polyanad.

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Sam Leftow
February 08, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Finally got 850 so I can cross it off my bucket list. I guess it can only go down from here LOL.

Jeff Coleman
November 10, 2014 at 1:49 pm

My FICO Score is 845. I DO KNOW why it is high, but I don't do a single thing to actively manage it. After a certain point it is really unnecessary. I find the high score amusing though.

July 24, 2014 at 8:29 pm

This guy is a moron! There is NO NEED to spend thousands on credit reports - and I would argue it's a terrible financial decision to do so. Also, there is no reason to leave a balance on your credit card - it cost needless interest charges. All you have to do is make sure there is a small balance at the end of the statement period - when the statement is created. If you pay off the entire statement amount (and avoid interest charges) just make sure you charge something additional before the end of the next statement period. This is the amount sent to the credit companies. Also, using 7% of your credit is WAY too high! Aim for closer to 1%.

June 24, 2014 at 6:54 am

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Michael P. Stein
June 03, 2014 at 12:44 am

What will it get him? If his mortgage interest rate is 3%, it will get him a savings of $180/year in interest.

According to Discover, I just hit 850 this month, without making any special effort. I do not ever carry a balance on my credit cards - they are all set up to draft the full new balance amount from my checking account automatically on the due date.

April 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm

So, this guy spent thousands of dollars every year and received what? Nothing. He is worse than the people that have to have new cell phone every year. At least, they get new toy to play with.

April 28, 2014 at 1:37 am

I don't think it's "stupid." I respect his tenacity and I think that pursuing a debt management system that allows you to pay off your mortgage early is nothing short of brilliant. The borrow is always subservient to the lender. I look forward to improving my credit score and getting out of debt, which is a form of freedom in my opinion. It is alright if that is not your cup of tea, but being insulting is hardly necessary. I am inspired by his accomplishment, even though I will never be quite that obsessed, I think being purposeful in improving my score and debt burden can only be a positive thing.

April 26, 2014 at 7:11 pm

This whole thing is just stupid. What a moron! Paid an extra 6 thousand dollars on his mortgage, just to better his credit score. Now that he has it, will it get him a better job, with increased salary? Just stupid!