What is the average credit score, and how can you improve yours?
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Average credit scores can range depending on your age, location, income level and more. However, when it comes to maintaining a good credit score, there are some best practices that can set you up for success and make a huge difference for your financial health and borrowing power later on. That way, regardless of how life’s curveballs impact your finances, you will know what to do if your credit alarm bells start ringing.
Key credit score statistics
- The average FICO score in the U.S. is 716.
- People over age 75 have the highest credit scores. Those between the ages of 56 and 74 have the second-highest average FICO scores.
- The average score for the lowest-earning Americans is 658. The highest-earning Americans have an average credit score of 774.
- The average credit score of homebuyers across the 50 states and the District of Columbia is 731.
Average credit score by state
Average credit scores vary across states, with Minnesota residents having the highest credit score at 739 and Mississippi residents having the lowest average credit score at 675. Here’s a look at how each state fares in terms of the average credit score.
|State||Average credit score|
|District of Columbia||713|
Average credit score by age
Age can play an important role in a person’s credit habits and overall credit score. Americans between the ages of 56 and 74 have the highest average credit score, while those who belong to Generation Z tend to see lower scores on average. This could likely be attributed to a lack of access to credit and shorter credit history.
|Generation||Average credit score|
Average credit score by income
Credit scores can also vary by income, with higher-earning Americans, who typically have more access to credit and greater financial means to pay down their balances quickly, having higher scores on average. Meanwhile, those who earn less tend to see lower credit scores.
|Level of income||Average credit score|
What is considered an ‘average’ credit score?
The words “fair” and “average” are sometimes taken to mean the same thing. But in credit-scoring terms, fair and average are very different. Based on the numbers shown above, the average American has what would be termed good credit, which ranges from 670 to 739 in the FICO score model and 661 to 780 in the VantageScore model. This is better than fair credit, which checks in at 580 to 669 for FICO and 601 to 660 for VantageScore.
So, “fair” and “average” are really two different measures in credit scoring, even though both have numerical functions. “Average” in this instance is a mathematical term, also known as “arithmetic mean.” In other words: add up all individual credit scores and then divide the sum by the total number of those individuals.
The word “fair,” as outlined in the ranges above, is actually the next-to-the-last category above “poor.” The difference in credit scoring between “fair” and “good” is actually pretty substantial in terms of what one score will cost you to get a loan or to access credit versus the other.
Why is your credit score important?
Your credit score is used to determine more than just the interest rate and terms such as down payment or size of credit line, for which you may qualify (although it will most certainly be used for that purpose). Here the difference between fair and good is a big one, even though the numbers back into each other.
Being short just one point can put you in a lower and more expensive category. Credit scores, and the reports that create those scores, are increasingly used by insurance companies, landlords and even employers (though employers only use credit reports, not scores). This means your credit report or the score generated from it is likely to factor into the insurance rate you are charged, your acceptance for a new place to rent or lease or even a promotion at your job.
And when it comes to new loans, getting to the next tier—or worse, falling into the lower one—is likely to mean real dollars, either up or down. So, finding out where you stand is crucial for the next step.
How to improve your credit score
Check your credit report
Request your report from all three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com as your information could vary from bureau to bureau. Federal law entitles every American to at least one free credit report from each of the three bureaus every 12 months. Several states also provide additional free credit reports each year. The annual credit report website does not offer free credit scores, however, there are several lenders and sites that offer free scores.
Scan your credit reports for any errors that could be hurting your score. Mistakes can happen, but it’s up to you as the consumer to correct any errors on your report. Once you have made any corrections, it’s time to order a score. If your score isn’t where you want it to be, look at the factors that are bringing it down—you’ll receive “reason statements” with your score that will provide a simple explanation of why your score is less than perfect.
Pay your bills on time
If you have been late making payments, make today the day you commit to paying your bills on time, each and every time, from now on. This is the best thing for your score, and more importantly, for your financial health. If you have trouble remembering to pay your bills each month, set yourself up for success by enrolling in auto-pay. It’ll shorten your monthly to-do list and could save you from having to pay late fees later on.
Reduce your card balances
If you have credit card debt, take note of your credit utilization ratio. Most experts agree that keeping your credit usage below 25 percent of your available credit on each of your cards is the sweet spot. Cardholders with the best credit scores see utilization rates in the single digits. Keeping these numbers low shows lenders that you can be responsible with the credit you have available to you and keeps you from falling into a dangerous debt spiral.
Use different types of credit
Keeping your balances low isn’t the only key to maintaining a good score and building a strong credit history. Having a diverse credit mix will also bode well for you in the long run. This should include both revolving and installment credit. Credit cards are revolving, while car loans and mortgages are installment credit. Your credit score considers how you handle both types of credit, which is why just having a fistful of credit cards won’t help you as much as a credit card or two and a mortgage or other installment loan.
Don’t apply for credit unless you need it
Just remember that when it comes to credit mix you need to be careful before you apply for a new line of credit. Lots of hard inquiries in a short amount of time can damage your score, especially if your report is thin or your score is low. This is why you should only apply for credit when you need it and when you are fairly certain you will qualify. One difference is if you are shopping for a mortgage or car loan. These inquiries are usually made in a short period of time and will usually only count once.
Keep old accounts open
The last factor in credit scoring is the length of your credit history. This one takes time. But everyone has to start somewhere. What you do want to avoid is closing an account because you don’t use it often or don’t want it anymore. Killing your oldest account and removing that card from the mix could work against you by shortening your credit history. If you can avoid it, try to keep your oldest accounts open and in good standing.
Use credit-building tools
Finally, there are some products that can help you increase your score if you still aren’t where you would like to be.
- The Experian Boost program uses positive information gleaned from your bank account to report positive cellphone and other utility payments, which should effectively “boost” your score.
- For renters, the Experian RentBureau will also report rent payments, something else that is not typically reported.
- UltraFICO is a product that accesses your banking data to report positive payments to increase your score.
All of these products will only affect the score derived from your Experian report, but may still be worth looking into. Since they are consumer-driven, all are easy to opt in and out of.
The bottom line
Building and maintaining a good credit score takes time and good financial habits. But by keeping your spending in check, paying down your balances in full and on time and regularly checking in on each of your accounts, you’ll ensure that your credit score stays within the excellent range and that lenders will be more willing to do business with you.