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:
- 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.
- 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:
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- Excellent Credit: 781 – 850
- Good Credit: 661-780
- Fair Credit: 601-660
- Poor Credit: 501-600
- Bad Credit: below 500
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.