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From the Experts at Credit.com

What Is a Bad Credit Score?

by Gerri Detweiler

Learn what is considered to be a bad credit score and see where your credit stands by using our free Credit Report Card tool.

Most people have a gut feeling about their credit – it’s either great, good or bad. But what is a bad credit score really?

First, it’s important to understand that there are many different credit scoring models out there and each may use a different scale – or numbers – to convey information. For example, all FICO score range between 300 and 850 with 300 being the lowest (or worst) possible score, while 850 is the highest (or best) possible score.

The range for VantageScore credit scores has traditionally been between 501 and 990, with the higher number representing the strongest score. But the newer version, VantageScore 3.0, has a range of 300 to 850.

The companies that develop credit scores – FICO and VantageScore, for example – do not decide which credit scores are “good” or “bad.” Nor do the credit reporting agencies that supply the credit reports that are used to create credit scores. Instead, it’s up to individual lenders and insurance companies who use these scores to decide which scores demonstrate an acceptable level of risk.

They use them in a variety of ways, too:

  1. Determine the interest rate they will charge for a loan, or in the case of an insurance company, the discount they may offer on an insurance policy.
  2. Decide whether to extend credit, how much credit to approve, whether to increase (or lower) a customer’s credit limit, or even to close a risky account.

In a way, then, there is no such thing as a “bad credit score,” since the number itself doesn’t mean anything until a lender decides how to use it.

In other words, a credit score is only bad when it keeps you from whatever you are trying to accomplish, whether that is to refinance a loan, borrow at a low interest rate, or get the best deal on your auto insurance.

But in the real world, there are some assumptions that can be made about credit scores that fall into different ranges. When you are reviewing a credit score where the range runs from 300 – 850, you can generally assume the following:

Great Credit: 760 – 850
Good Credit: 680 – 760
Fair Credit: 620 – 680
Bad Credit: Below 620

Find Out Where You Stand

You can check your credit score each month using Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card. This completely free tool will break down your credit score into sections and give you a grade for each. You’ll see, for example, how your payment history, debt and other factors affect your score, and you’ll get recommendations for steps you may want to consider to address problems. In addition, you’ll also find credit offers from lenders who may be willing to offer you credit. Checking your own credit reports and scores does not affect your credit score in any way.

These are very general guidelines but they are by no means set in stone! Remember, every lender is different and will decide for itself how it will use credit scores to make decisions. Also, what will be considered bad credit by one lender may be perfectly acceptable to another. For example, with many mortgages, the minimum score required may be a 620, while some credit card issuers offering low-rate cards may reject applicants whose scores are lower than, say 680.


  • Ed

    I just got hit for 5 (so far) ITA fees (foreign transactions) for $15 each totaling $60, taken by the bank for petty eBay purchases as small as $4.55 (300% fee) paid through PayPal, even though my bank’s only involvement was to send money to PayPal in a domestic transaction (the actual paying is done by PayPal).

    Seems the definition of “international transaction” isn’t the only thing that has been changed —- the fee is being charged even if your bank thinks that who they are transferring money to is going to use it for international payments. Clearly a fee gouge job, and the bank keeps quoting “policy” and “regulations” but will not furnish WHAT policies and regulations they are referring to.

    This ITA fee crookery has become so widespread, that the federal rules on international transactions have been changed effective October 31st —- two months ago. My bank (your bank) cannot even process a foreign transaction unless they notify you of the fee and give you time to cancel it.

  • G.L.C.

    My credit union (!) Visa card charged me 2% with an ASOS.com purchase made via PayPal. Is this legal if there has been no disclosure of this additional charge at the time of the transaction by either the company or by PayPal?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Did they say it is a foreign transaction fee? If so, then it would be disclosed in your terms and conditions. It doesn’t have to be disclosed each time you make a purchase.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am sorry but I am not sure where you are getting that impression. Paid collections remain on consumers’ credit reports for 7.5 years regardless of whether they are medical collections or not. And I don’t know what you mean about “won by a consumer in the court of law.” I am not following this either: “Some of mine were sold before they were ever in default, but lo and behold, they are being treated as if they were in collections when they were never in collections.” Did you post elsewhere? I am not familiar with that scenario.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am sorry I didn’t understand your question. (And yes, I read the article – and wrote it! :)

    I guess what’s confusing me is that you say you had collection accounts that weren’t in default but had been paid in full. That’s not a typical scenario so without knowing what exactly happened it’s hard for me to comment on the credit reporting issues that resulted. Were you an identity theft victim perhaps?

    At any rate, the fact that you won the lawsuits wouldn’t automatically remove them from your credit reports; the credit reporting agency would have no way of knowing what happened in the courts. Either the furnisher of the information would have to stop reporting it or you would have to dispute it. Sometimes attorneys handling these kinds of cases will make that a stipulation of the agreement, or the judge may order it. But again, without knowing the specifics of your situation it’s hard to comment.

    I hope that’s helpful.

    • Vincentius Veritas

      I beIieve A Penny was referring to this article (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/fico-credit-score-better-debtors-183053850.html) about recent changes to the FICO credit reporting. I venture to guess they believed they were responding to that article, hence their question for you regarding your reading of this article.

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        Ah thanks. It makes more sense to me now.

        Credit reporting agencies won’t be removing collection accounts as a result of FICO 9. When lenders use that scoring system paid collections will be bypassed (ignored). However, it’s anyone’s guess as to how quickly it will become widely adopted. I wrote about that here:

        Why You Shouldn’t Get Too Excited About the New FICO Score… Yet

        However, in A Penny’s case, I’d still suggest trying to get them removed if they were bogus. Consumers never know which version of which credit score will be used.

  • Susan

    Question: why would my score be 660 when I have NO blemishes on my credit report. my debt to credit ratio is 73%. I have never missed a payment and just had a collection of $1,500 placed due to insurance payment on an MRI.
    Thank you, Susan

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      A 73% debt to available credit ratio is high and can definitely hurt your scores. In addition, a collection account – especially a recent one – can drop a credit score significantly. Is it on your credit reports? If so then it is considered negative. We wrote about collection accounts here: The 7 Biggest Questions About Debt Collections & Your Credit

      Have you obtained your free credit score from Credit.com? It will point out which factors are most affecting your credit.

  • Mike

    I have a question I have three credit cards one secure one retail and one regular credit card but my score always go down never up and I never miss a payment and my cards are kept under 20% why is that and how long does it take for a credit card to benefit my score instead of hurt it

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      It’s hard to know from what you are describing what the problem might be. Have you checked your credit reports? Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports. Credit scores are calculated from information in your credit reports, so it’s important that those be accurate.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Paying the collection won’t help your credit score in the long run. Can you negotiate to have them not report it if you pay it? That would be ideal. If so, get it in writing.

    Don’t close the accounts. That will make the ratio worse. It’s looking at balances compared to available credit limits. If you can pay down your balances that should help.

    • Susan

      Thank you soooo much Gerri…. you’ve been so helpful.
      One last thing, I promise. Should I ask the credit cards to reduce my limit once I pay them off? will this help in the long run?

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        Happy to help. And no – reducing your credit limits won’t improve your credit scores. Just pay them down and leave the limits where they are.

        • Susan

          Thank you!

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It’s hard to say. It depends on what’s affecting your score. I suggest you start by getting your free credit score from Credit.com. It will also give you an action plan for your credit.

    Inquiries tend to shave around 2 – 7 points off the score but it really depends on the type of inquiry and the other information in the report. You will learn more here: Should You Be Worried About Credit Report Inquiries?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Reverse mortgages do not appear on credit reports.After all, you don’t make payments.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    It will be more difficult than if you had better credit, but it’s not impossible. We wrote about it here: How to Rent With Bad Credit.

    Good luck to you in finding your own place. You can also get a free credit score and action plan for improving it from Credit.com every 30 days. Checking it regularly can help you see your progress rebuilding your credit.

  • KeitasKookie

    I have a “785” credit score but my grade on making payments is an “F” since the last 4 months, when will this grade change for an F to ?.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I’m not sure I understand your question but generally late payments in the past 12 to 24 months carry the most weight. As they become older they may have less impact, especially if you are continuing to pay that account and everything else on time.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It’s so hard to say as payment history includes so many factors: # of late payments, recency, severity etc. – and each scoring model can weigh those a little differently. There’s no specific formula I can give you, but keep on paying on time and you should slowly start to see improvement.

    • b thompson

      I’m curious to know how someone with an F in the payment history category (the category which seems to carry the highest weight) can have a score of 785. I also have an F in that category due to two 30day late payments over 48 months ago. All other categories are A or B. For over 48 months I have not had a late payment and have been striving for a score of 700 or better. After all this time I can’t get over a 680. I have a combined credit line over $25K but am still hung up on a stupid number. Reading comments like this one exasperates me.

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        I hear you. Though if I recall this thread correctly that person was originally referring to a score that came from a different source. I think it may have been based on the older version of Vantage score which runs on a scale that goes up to 990.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Nathan —
    There’s no way we can tell you. Your score will be different depending on what scale and when it’s reported (there shouldn’t be big differences), and your score might be what your employer considers “fair.” We hope so. You can read more about scoring here:
    What Is a Good Credit Score?

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    They come off seven years and 180 days after the original debt was reported late. However, the collections accounts may still be collectable, depending on your state’s statute of limitations. The fact that they are no longer reported does not mean you can’t be sued and get a judgment against you. We wrote about that here: Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

    • isla

      HI, I have a question about this also, I paid off 3 “collection” accounts in 2010, but they were opened in 2007, when or will they be not on my report and when or if they are will that improve my scores?

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        Collection accounts may be reported for seven years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor. That original date of delinquency should be reported accurately; if it’s not you may have to dispute it.

  • Steve

    I monitor my credit v-e-r-y closely. Living in the information / technology age that we do, there are just too many cracks to be breached, and all activity does not appear on all files, so I have monitoring and alert subscriptions with all three major credit bureaus.

    As such, my TU file had a comment (about 2 1/2 years ago) listed under reasons for my score (825 at that time) was that the available credit limit(s) I have are too low. I have been an Amex customer for 20 years+, and I had only a couple other cards (gas / CapOne) with moderate limits. My Amex allows me to charge up to around $25k in one transaction, and my Pay Over Time limit is $35k. There really wasn’t much motivation to getting other cards. However, Amex is not a revolving credit card with a credit limit (as I later came to realize the implications), so my available credit with revolving accounts was modest (~$6k).

    I proceeded to apply for various cards, and continued to do so, as I monitored for a change / removal of the aforementioned comment. I have added revolving cards from most major banks and now have ~$105k in revolving credit. The message I worked hard to eradicate is gone, but it has been replaced by a comment that I have “too much revolving credit”!! Ugh!

    They don’t tell you what is enough or too much… am I stuck with this comment now? Should I close some of the newest accounts? TU won’t tell me what the “magic number” is, which I find quite unfair. I will be more than happy to meet the criteria, which they have impressed upon me is quite a nebulous, no-rhyme-nor-reason number…. :(

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I wouldn’t get too hung up on one particular score or even one particular reason code. Too much revolving credit is not a major factor and if you start to try to manipulate it who knows what will happen? We explain more in this article: How to Decode Your Credit Score

  • Kate

    Since your credit is already ruined for the moment, I would suggest you pay off and close 16 of the 19 accounts you have open and concentrate on the 3 remaining.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Joe —
    We wrote about the origins of credit scores here: Where Did Credit Scores Come From? And no, other countries do not use the same system.

  • welshie

    I bought a new car in May. I went in with pre-approved financing from a nationally known bank. I was told by the finance manager that he thought he could get me a better interest rate through another bank and I signed a form to let him do so. I didn’t find out until three months later, when letters from prospective banks started coming in saying that they were sorry I’d decided not to do business with them, that they’d sent 12 hard credit hits out to various banks looking for the best interest rate. That little move dinged my credit rating 80 points and 6 months later, my credit score is still in the toilet despite my otherwise spotless credit report

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Ugh! I am going to reach out to you by email.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    We wish we could tell you. Because there are so many factors that determine your score, we can’t. However, we can tell you how to improve yours.. First, pay on time, every time. Second, make sure your balance does not exceed 30% of your credit limit (keeping it to less than 10% is even better). And be sure any loan you have (car, home) is up to date. We also suggest checking your credit reports to be sure that information is accurate. Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports. You can also get a free credit score and a personalized action plan for improving yours from Credit.com. The score updates every 30 days. It’s a good idea to monitor your scores, but be sure you use the same credit score for comparison. (There are hundreds of them out there, and you want to compare apples to apples.)


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  • Meet Our Expert

    gerri_detweiler GravatarGerri Detweiler is Credit.com's Director of Consumer Education. She focuses on helping people understand their credit and debt, and writes about those issues, as well as financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and savings strategies. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis as well as host of TalkCreditRadio.com.
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