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From the Experts at

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:

  • 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’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 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?

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 ( 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.

      • 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

    • 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 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

    • 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.

  • 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?

      • 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!

  • 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 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?

  • Gerri Detweiler

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

  • 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 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 ?.

    • 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.

  • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

      • 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…. :(

    • 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.

  • 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

    • Gerri Detweiler

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

  • 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 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.)

    • Brandon

      I sometimes use my personal credit card for work expenses, but I have still always paid off the balance. If I do spend over the 10-30% of my $7000.00 limit, but still pay it off, what kind of effects can it have on my score?

      • Credit Experts

        It depends on when your score is calculated (and they are calculated when requested). So, if it was requested when there was a balance of, say, 35%, it could hurt it. If it was requested the day after you paid, it would not. (Unlike a late payment, which can hurt your score for longer, high credit usage disappears as the balance drops. One way to avoid having the score reflect high usage is to pay online, shortly after the card is used (before you receive a bill.)

  • Credit Experts

    We agree. Thanks.

  • HeatherMc

    Even if you have a long list of creditor’s on your credit report and they have been open for some time, with a good history; I would not delete or close those accounts. Those accounts, used or unused, show what type of customer you have been with that company. Actually if you start closing open accounts, your credit score will drop. Darrell, you offer great advice. Good luck to you, Jojo.

  • HeatherMc

    Glynn – I don’t think we should ever have to “pay” for our credit reports and credit scores. It’s information about us and no one else. Why should we ever have to pay to see what agency has information on us? (The “BIG 3″ should earn their revenue from the reporting creditor’s, not the consumer. A small fee that really could mean millions and millions, to the credit reporting agency’s, when tallied up.) I also think is should be LAW, that they three reporting agency’s should have the same content. If the content is different, it should be up the reporting agency’s to do the work to make the report’s “jive” with each other. I totally agree with you, that the credit reporting agency’s should be combined into one. It’s ridiculous to have three. Considering the way things are done today, think how much money and time (not to mention the terrible headaches) it could save the consumer.

  • HeatherMc

    Paying cash is always a great idea. IF you were to go try to buy a new vehicle that you want financed, you might be surprised to find that your “all cash approach,” will leave you “no credit score.” A credit lender may turn you down for that car loan since you have not built up any credit. Thus by never using a credit card; leaving you with “no credit score” for them to judge your credit worthiness for the loan. You may not get that car you want. In today’s world,since it seems to be all about the almighty “credit score” to qualify you to finance homes, cars, etc. I’m glad to see that you DO have one credit card. It’s really a good thing that you pay off your credit card each month. You’re smart, Danny.

  • Cathy Cee

    I’d always been a bit mystified about credit scores. In 1999 I tried to
    buy a car after mine had been wrecked in an accident caused by another
    driver. I looked for over 4 months, always taking a friend along to
    bounce ideas off and get moral support. When I finally decided on
    one I haggled with the salesman and wondered if I’d be buried under
    payments for the next umpteen years. I’d already looking into financing, but wondered if I could get a better deal thru the dealership’s financing. At one point the salesman said
    something about checking something (I was still dreaming about my new
    car) In a little while he came back put his hands together in a praying
    position and bowed his head at me. I was flummoxed, huh? My friend
    nudged me and laughing, told me I had a good credit report. Oh, I
    asked, what is it? He said he couldn’t tell me, then he laid a paper on
    the table and walked away. Me, still a daze, just sat there, while my
    friend (Isn’t it good to have a smart friend?) reached out, grabbed that
    paper and turned it over to read. Her eyes got big and she told me it
    was 825. I didn’t know a thing about credit scores then, so asked if
    that was good… These days, credit reports are much easier to get, I’m
    still driving that 1999 Ford (on Christmas day, the odometer turned over
    to 200,000) and my credit report is still pretty good.

    • Credit Experts

      Good for you! Both for a great credit score and for getting so much from the car you bought with it.

  • Credit Experts

    You might want to see what you can do about getting a credit score. While it is not impossible to get financing on a home without a credit score, it is more difficult, and you may have to pay more in interest. You could consider a credit builder loan at a credit union or applying for a line of credit, and keeping your balance to less than 10%. The good news is you also have no blemishes on your credit, so do not first have to overcome a low score.

  • Credit Experts

    Very good advice. Thank you for sharing.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    We wrote more about this topic here: An Auto Loan Inquiry Dropped My Credit Score 80 Points

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It’s hard to say. If the kenders maintained those records then there is a good chance you will be turned down, even if they are no longer on your credit reports. It is also possible they don’t have those records.

    If you do apply let us know what happens!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    The credit scores you receive from are based on data from Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The scores you see at Credit Karma are based on information from TransUnion and Equifax. This article may be helpful in explaining the different credit scoring models available:
    FICO vs. FAKO: What’s Your Real Credit Score?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Another good question. One is not necessarily more “correct” than the other. What matters more is what category you fall into – and that should be similar among the different models (unless one of your credit reports contains information quite different than the others.) Looking at those scores, where do you fall in terms of good, excellent etc and is it pretty consistent across the different scores?

  • Monique Goins Tyler

    I was doing good until around November I started getting these pre approvals and opened these accounts which I have already paid off, thinking I was doing something my credit score was steadily rising and boom applying for these cards took my score down 20 points this is unreal what can I do????? I know I will not apply for anything else and the fact they are paid off doesn’t seem to be helping me either.

    • Credit Experts

      Monique —
      Every credit application causes a small, temporary drop in your credit scores. As long as you are paying these new cards off in full every month, you will likely see your scores rise again.

      • Monique Goins Tyler

        I will continue to watch they have all been paid off except one. Thanks

  • Barb

    I think it is a violation of your privacy for a new employer to look at your credit score. It is your personal business and has nothing to do with your job.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Some legislators agree with you Barb and have passed state laws restricting their use.

  • Jack Soffalot

    I’m 45, have no debt at all. Always used my debit card or cash. If I want something I save my money and buy it.
    I finally broke down and got my first credit card 3 months ago because I would like to buy a house at some point. I only use it the same way I used my debit card. I never buy anything unless I already have the cash to get it. I keep balances between 5% and 10% and pay those as soon as bill is posted.
    I now have 4 credit cards. I try not to think of them as credit cards though. They are my “credit score improvement cards”. Plus I’m getting 5% cash back on gas purchases. Also protection if card is stolen or something goes wrong with a purchase.
    I believe with a debit card you only have 48 hours to report fraudulent charges to guarantee being responsible for only $50.00. With a credit card you have at least 30 days.
    I was always afraid of Credit cards, but now that I am older and more responsible it’s not so bad. Just use them for things you were planning to purchase anyway and always pay them off.
    They are actually paying me to use the cards. Mahahaha.

  • Jack Soffalot

    I bet that you do have a credit score. I recently got my very first credit card and I had a credit score. My credit score got sent to me in the mail and it was in the 400s. The only thing I had on my report was from way back in 1991 for a used car loan. It was nothing bad just an old address or something from a bank. I can’t remember. I got my credit report and it had absolutely nothing on it.

    What I did was went to my bank and applied for a secured credit card. My bank offered me a partially secured card. (I gave them $99.00 and they gave me a card with $500.00 limit.) Then about a month later I applied for 3 other cards and got approved for them. (If you do apply for other cards make sure they aren’t cards for people that have excellent credit or you will get denied and that will be another hit on your credit score.) Now I use all 4 of them every month to pay my regular bills, gas, and groceries.

    Before the bill gets posted I make sure to pay them down to between 5% and 10%. Then once the bill is emailed to me I pay the rest. The people with the highest FICO scores only use 7% of their available credit every month and always pay off their cards every month. They are actually paying me to use the card with 5% cash back. Last month they gave me over $6.00.
    Just go to your favorite search engine and type “Build Credit” then read everything. I think this site is excellent. lots of useful info.

  • Sam

    I graduated about two years ago, and couldn’t find a job right away. So i did jobs here and there just to pay bills, but it still didn’t cover everything. Now those late payments are effecting my credit score. Is there anything I can do to change or help my score?

    • Credit Experts

      Sam —
      Those late payments can be reported for seven years and 180 days after the accounts first went late. However, if you are NOW paying on time and keeping balances low (no more than 30% of your credit limits), you should be able to improve your score. Recent, positive information diminishes the impact of the older, negative information. You can read more here:
      How to Rebuild Credit

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  • Meet Our Expert

    gerri_detweiler GravatarGerri Detweiler is'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
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