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What is a Credit Score?

Wondering how credit scores work? In simple terms, your credit score is a three-digit number given after a statistical analysis of your financial history. It’s basically a measure of how likely you are to pay a lender back. And the higher your credit score, the less interest you’ll pay and the more financial products you’ll gain access to.

Sounds simple, right? Actually, it’s a little bit more complicated. You might be surprised to learn, for instance, that you have more than one credit score—you actually have dozens of credit scores.

Confused about credit? You’re in the right place. We’ll begin this piece with a quick score retrieval guide, and then we’ll help you understand your credit a little better. Got burning questions about the bureaus? Don’t worry—we’ve got answers.

Getting Your Credit Score Has Never Been Easier

Developed by Fair, Isaac, and Company in 1956, the FICO scoring system initially flopped. Credit bureaus Credit bureaus didn’t adopt FICO until 1991, and consumers didn’t gain on-demand access to bona fide FICO scores until much later than that. Now, thanks to the internet, you can see your FICO score in minutes. Let’s explore two ways to get your score right now.

Credit Report Card’s credit report card is completely free. When you sign up, you get instant access to a helpful credit snapshot, which includes:

    Your Experian VantageScore 3.0 credit score
  • A letter grade for each of your five main credit-influencing factors
  • Your credit utilization ratio, average credit age and credit account mix
  • The number of credit inquiries on your credit report
  • A tracker tool to monitor and analyze changes in your credit score
  • Personalized offers to help you get the best financial deals

Your credit score reflects your financial history. Factors like payment history, average account age and number of hard credit inquiries either boost or reduce your score. Generally speaking, if you consistently make payments on time, for instance, your score will increase. If you pay your bills late or miss payments, however, your score will decrease.

Your credit score isn’t the same as your credit report. Your credit report contains a breakdown of your recent—within the past seven to ten years or so—financial history. You’ll see an overview of each of your revolving and installment accounts, hard and soft inquiries , bankruptcies and more on your credit report. In contrast, credit scores are simply numbers.

One thing to note—you have a different credit score from each credit reporting company. Equifax, TransUnion and Experian all might have different information on your credit reports. That's because some lenders might report information to one major credit bureau, but not the others. So don't be surprised if you find that your Experian credit score is different from your Equifax and TransUnion scores—and the other way around.

What affects my credit score?

    Credit scores are based on more than payment history. In fact, the following five factors influence your score:
  1. Payment history—35%: Missed or late payments reduce your score, while on-time payments give it a boost. In short, lenders want to know that you can repay debts on time.
  2. Amount of debt—30%: Also known as your credit utilization, this measure gives lenders an idea of how much you depend on credit to stay afloat. Try to keep your borrowing under 30% of your collective credit limit
  3. Credit age—15%: This is the average age of all of your credit accounts. The older, the better. Try not to close any old credit accounts unless you really have to.
  4. Account mix—10%: Lenders like to see how well potential borrowers do with a range of credit products. If you have a diverse mix of installment and revolving loans, you’ll improve this part of the credit equation.
  5. Credit inquiries—10%: Too many hard inquiries in a short time imply risk—and so do too many accounts. In contrast, soft inquiries—like checking your own score—don’t affect your credit score at all.

Every now and again, FICO scoring models get an update. At the moment, most auto and bank card lenders use FICO 8 models, while mortgage companies rely on FICO 2, 4 or 5. The newest iteration, FICO 9, isn’t widespread yet.

Is 700 a good credit score?

If your credit score sits above the 700 mark, give yourself a pat on the back—you’re doing pretty well. You’re firmly in the good credit score range on the FICO scoring model, so you should be eligible for some decent card and loan deals. Incidentally, the average credit score in America was 710 in 2020.

Will checking my credit score hurt my score?

In a word, no. Checking your own credit won’t have any effect on your score. When you check your own credit, you create what’s known as a soft inquiry. Soft inquiries aren’t attached to requests for credit, so they don’t make a dent in your credit. Hard inquiries, which happen when you apply for credit, are attached to requests for credit, which is why they do change your credit score.


Credit is a complex and confusing topic. In this section, we’ll answer some of the most common credit score-related questions.

How can I check my credit score for free?

To check your credit score for free, sign up for your free credit report card. It’ll give you instant access to your Experian VantageScore 3.0 credit score, which gets updated every 14 days.

What is a good credit score?

Scoring models vary, but most FICO-based models rate scores from 670 to 739 as “good.” Meanwhile, scores between 300 and 579 are “poor” and scores between 580 and 669 are “fair.” At the upper end of the scale, scores between 740 and 799 are “very good” and scores over 800 are “excellent” or “exceptional.”

How can I improve my credit score?

    You can improve your credit score in numerous ways, all of which take time to make an impact. Let’s look at five of the top contenders:
  • Always pay your bills on time—or better still, early
  • Pay off some of your debt, and keep balances low to reduce your credit utilization
  • Don’t open too many new accounts
  • Check your credit report frequently and challenge mistakes
  • Report any suspicious activity as soon as you see it

Most derogatory marks fall off credit reports after about seven years. Some bankruptcies stick around for ten years. When negative items eventually vanish, scores generally improve.

What is the credit score for beginners?

There isn’t a specific credit score for beginners. People who are newly eligible for credit or move to different countries and have to rebuild credit histories generally have thin credit files. Thin credit files don’t contain much information, so they’re hard to use as the basis for credit scores.

Your credit report card isn’t a full credit monitoring solution, but it does give a you great credit overview. You can use the information in your credit report card to start improving your credit or to check your credit score before applying for a new card or loan. Your Experian VantageScore 3.0 updates every 14 days, so keep checking back.


    If you want to dive deeper into your credit profile, sign up for ExtraCredit. This credit solution comes with the following features:
  • 28 of the real FICO scores lenders use to calculate your eligibility
  • Credit reports from all three bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
  • Five encompassing credit tools—Build It, Guard It, Track It, Reward It and Restore It
  • Credit monitoring and credit alert features to keep you in the loop
  • Identity theft protection and insurance to safeguard your ID
  • Generous cashback offers via Reward It
  • Discount to one of the leaders in credit repair to help you work on your score

A fully loaded monitoring product, ExtraCredit takes the mystery out of credit. You’ll see what a lender sees when they check your reports, and you’ll get insider tips and personalized guidance to help you work on your score. ExtraCredit also includes dark web monitoring and real-time security alerts to keep your data safe.

ExtraCredit’s benefits don’t end with data safety. If you have a limited credit history or want payments you already make added to your credit profile, you can report your on-time rent payments, utility payments and more with Build It. In a nutshell, ExtraCredit can help you take full control over your financial profile.

Understand Your Credit Scores

    Good, fair, poor—all credit scores need a closer look. Knowledge is power, and most consumers feel more empowered after they learn about credit scores. Without further ado, let’s review what goes into a credit score:
  • What is a credit score?
  • What affects my credit score?
  • How do I get my free score/check my credit scores?
  • Why do I have more than one credit score?
  • Will checking my credit score hurt my score?

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a personalized three-digit number based on a consumer’s credit history. Lenders use credit scores to decide whether or not to offer people credit. There are several different credit scoring models, but FICO is the most commonly used. FICO scores range between 300 and 850—the higher your score, the better your creditworthiness.

With that said, pushing your credit score into the “very good” or “exceptional” range will increase the number of affordable or low-interest financial products you qualify for. You can use ExtraCredit’s personalized tips and tricks to help you get there.

How do I get my free score/check my credit scores?

If you want to keep track of your credit report, you have three main options. Only two of them include your credit score, though. Here’s a brief overview of each option:

Thanks to an amendment to the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), all U.S. consumers get one free credit report from each credit bureau once a year. To claim your reports, visit, call 1-877-322-8228 or send an Annual Credit Report Request Form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Importantly, your free annual reports do not include credit scores.

Credit Report Card

For a quick and helpful credit overview, sign up for your free credit report card at You’ll see your Experian VantageScore 3.0 credit score right away, and you’ll also get a letter grade for each of the five factors that influence your credit score. The credit report card is free, but it doesn’t include your full credit reports.


To develop a really in-depth understanding of your credit, choose ExtraCredit. For an affordable monthly fee, you can look at all three of your credit reports whenever you like—and you gain access to 28 of the FICO scores lenders use to make decisions. You can use ExtraCredit to delve deep into your own history, and see the areas you would most like to work on.

Why do I have more than one credit score?

Many people believe that they only have one credit score. In reality, they have numerous scores—hundreds, in fact—calculated using various scoring models. We mentioned FICO 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9 models earlier, but VantageScore and other systems also come into play. Jointly owned by all three credit bureaus, VantageScore has an output range of 501 to 990.

On top of this, credit bureaus each hold different information about consumers. Your credit card or car loan might report to TransUnion, for example, but not to Experian. You might have a mistake on one credit report but not another. All of these differences influence your credit scores.

A word about “educational” credit scores: Many free apps generate educational credit scores, which aren’t always based on up-to-date information. These can be helpful from a snapshot perspective, but they don’t usually match what lenders see.

If you have a thin file, you might be unscorable. If you have no credit history at all, you might be completely invisible to all three credit bureaus. In either case, the path to a scorable credit file lies in credit utilization. Many consumers begin with a prepaid or credit-builder credit card and move up from there.

Take control of your credit score with

Great credit scores don’t happen by accident. You can’t get where you want to be without insight into your credit score. If you’re ready to learn more about your own credit profile and make some changes, sign up for an ExtraCredit free trial today.

What’s in My Credit Score?

Ever applied for a credit card or taken out a car loan? What about borrowing student loans to help pay for college? If you’ve done any of these, chances are, you have a credit score. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) explains on its site, “a credit score predicts how likely you are to pay back a loan on time. A scoring model uses information from your credit report to create your credit score.”

What’s a Credit Score?

A credit score is a numerical representation of your likelihood to pay a loan back as agreed. They’re used primarily by lenders to determine whether to approve a certain loan, like a mortgage or credit card. There are lots of different credit scores that lenders use, but they’re all based off the information in your credit reports. In general, most scores range from 300 to 850, the CFPB says. A high credit score indicates you’re not a big risk and are likely to pay back the financing a lender provides. As such, it places you within reach of your financial goals, such as owning a home or buying a new car. However, a poor credit score indicates that you are a risky borrower — you may not be approved for credit, or if you are approved, you’ll likely pay a higher interest rate. You can see where two of your credit scores currently rank you using our free credit report snapshot.

What’s in a Credit Score?

As a rule, all credit scores are based on five key categories in your credit reports. In this article, we’ll go over each and explain how they work.

1. Payment History

Payment history accounts for roughly 35% of your credit score. This one is pretty self-explanatory, as paying your bills on time will help keep scores high, while late payments, charge-offs and collections will hurt it. If you’re trying to improve your credit rating, it’s important to avoid the latter at all costs. Lenders know whether or not you pay bills on time and report your payment history to the three major credit agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Once they’ve received this info, they load it onto their databases and create an updated record of your account month by month. In general, your credit report will reflect your payment history for any credit account you’ve held in the past seven to 10 years.

2. Your Amount of Debt

Approximately 30% of your credit score is based on the amount of debt you’re currently carrying or, more specifically, the amount of money you currently owe to your creditors. There are several types of debt, including installment debt, which is money owed to a creditor who expects to be repaid over a fixed period of time; revolving debt, such as credit cards, which is money owed to a creditor who sets a monthly payment based on the current balance; and open debt, which is the least common type of debt found on a credit report. With open debt, each month you create a balance and pay it in full once you get your bill. In order to maximize your scores in this section, it’s a good idea to keep your balances in relation to your credit, or credit utilization, as low as possible. General rule of thumb is below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total available credit limits.

3. Length of Credit History

Comprising roughly 15% of your score, this section measures how long you’ve had credit, or the length of your credit history. Obviously, the longer you’ve had credit, the more points you’ll earn, which is just another reason not to close your accounts. It’s important to keep in mind that how long you’ve had credit pertains to the age of the information in your credit history, not your personal age. Many consumers get this mixed up and believe their age affects their credit scores.

4. Types of Credit

Worth 10% of the points in your credit score, this section looks for a healthy mix of credit accounts. Having different types of accounts, including credit cards issued by a retail store, home equity lines of credit, auto loans, and so on, will ensure you do well here. Of course, you’ll want to manage your accounts responsibly, as credit scoring models like to see you can handle different financing. Also, there’s no ideal mix of accounts to aim for, as one mix may work for one person and be a burden for another.

5. Your History of Searching for Credit

This section accounts for 10% of the points in your credit score. Whenever you apply for credit from a lender, a hard inquiry posts to your credit report. And whenever a lender pulls your credit report, each of the three credit reporting agencies is required by federal law to keep a record of that activity for 24 months. As a rule, it’s wise to avoid excessively shopping for credit and only open a new account when you really need it. Otherwise, lenders may think you have trouble managing credit. Soft inquiries, like pulling your own credit, do not hurt your credit score.

Remember, your credit score is based on five key categories that examine your use of credit. Pay your bills on time, keep a healthy mix of accounts and debt levels low, and try to limit hard inquiries as your score can handle them.

This article has been updated. It was originally published on April 30, 2014.

Why Do I Have So Many Credit Scores?

Credit scores help lenders gauge a borrower’s likelihood of repaying debt, and because there are thousands of lenders and dozens of loan products, there are all sorts of credit scores.

At first glance, it can all be confusing, but there’s no reason to dwell on point differences among credit scores or even the fact that you have multiple scores. What is more important to focus on is what’s behind the scores.

What Your Credit Score Measures

The various scoring models have one thing in common: Turning a consumer’s financial history into usable data for determining whether they are a good credit risk. The major credit scoring formulas are based on the information in your credit reports. Beyond that, however, the similarities begin to diverge. That’s because not all of your financial information gets reported to every credit bureau, leading to different information among credit reports. As such, you may get different credit scores from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), even if the bureaus use the same scoring model.

The major credit scoring models look at five major components of your credit reports to determine your scores. Those include your payment history, how much available credit you have, the age of your credit accounts, the types of credit accounts you have open, and how many credit inquiries you have.

You can see how you’re faring in each of these categories by using’s free Credit Report Summary, which can tell you areas of your credit history that may need work and provides access to two of your credit scores — one from VantageScore and one from Experian.

Most credit scores used by companies today are created by FICO or VantageScore, though there are others, including some newer models that take into account things like utility payments and other non-traditional factors. These “alternative scores” can be good for people who have not established a history of traditional credit on their credit reports with things like credit cards, mortgages and auto loans.

What Is the Difference Between VantageScore & FICO?

The VantageScore was developed by the major credit reporting agencies and uses a combined set of consumer credit files from the three agencies to come up with a single formula. The scores for the most recent iteration of this scoring model, the VantageScore 3.0, ranges from 300 to 850, with a higher score indicating lower risk.

FICO was developed by Fair Isaac Corporation and bases its credit scoring models on credit reports obtained separately from each of the three reporting agencies. FICO then builds scores based on each specific agency’s data. While the score range is the same for FICO and VantageScore 3.0, there isn’t just one FICO score.

Which Scoring Model Will a Creditor Use?

That will depend. For example, an auto lender may be more interested in a consumer’s history of repaying loans rather than a credit card, so the lender may pick a scoring model that puts less weight on a credit card’s payment history. Some scoring models offer different options based on the lender’s market, or a lender can order a custom formula.

“Lenders, they have choice,” says Jeff Richardson, vice president of public relations at VantageScore Solutions. “That’s important, because they need to have the best predictive capabilities for their businesses.”

With every tweak of the math, a consumer has another credit score, and that turns into a lot of numbers to track.

What’s an ‘Educational Credit Score?’

Even with all the various scoring models out there, there are really two main types of credit scores: educational scores and scores lenders use in their decision-making processes. Both can be valuable to a consumer.

“Educational scores — they’re not scores used by lenders to make lending decisions,” said Anthony Sprauve, director of public relations for FICO. “They can give a person a general sense of their credit standing.”

By tracking a single score over an extended period of time, a consumer can gauge the impact of financial decisions and progress toward financial goals. In other words: It’s not a score-to-score comparison that’s helpful, but rather a periodic review of the same scoring model that will provide the best insight into your credit profile.

The important thing is to compare apples to apples — pick a score monitor your credit frequently to see how your behaviors are impacting your credit.

This article has been updated. It was originally published April 30, 2014.

I Want to Get My Credit Scores for Free. How Do I Do That?

There are several ways to see your credit scores — yes, plural credit scores — you have multiple credit scores, but more on that in a minute.

One way to find out your credit score is to apply for credit. If you are turned down or charged more for credit based on your score, the lender must tell you the score they used to make their decision. But before you start filling out an application, you’ll want to think of the implications this new line of credit can have on your scores: Any hard inquiry on your credit profile will cause a ding to your scores. So, that said, you don’t want to sign up for new credit just to see your scores. Plus, the lender doesn’t have to send your credit score if you get approved at the best terms, so this isn’t a guaranteed method.

A surefire way to see where your credit stands is by checking your scores right here on By taking a look at your free credit report snapshot, you’ll see two of your scores, plus a breakdown of the factors that affect your credit so you can see where you are doing well and what areas you might want to focus on improving. As you work to improve any trouble spots, you can check back on your scores.

Another option is to sign up for a trial membership to a credit monitoring service to get your credit score at no cost. These services usually offer a 10-day free trial or something similar. If you don’t cancel after the trial period ends, you will be charged for an ongoing membership so make sure you stay on top of this if you don’t want to be charged. These services can be useful if you want to monitor your credit with more than one credit reporting agency.

These aren’t the only ways to see your free credit scores, but they are some good options. Now that you know how to access your credit score for free, there are some additional things you should know about your credit.

You Have More Than One Credit Score

At any given time, there are dozens of credit score models that can be used by lenders or insurance companies to evaluate applicants or customers. There’s no single “accurate” or “real” score; the score lenders use depends on their needs at that time. If you opt to check your credit on, you’ll see your VantageScore 3.0 credit score and your credit score from the credit bureau Experian.

Instead of obsessing about the number, look at what your score is telling you about your credit. Is it good? Not so good? Do you have things you need to focus on improving? Are there errors that you need to dispute? (If there are, you can read this guide to help you understand your options on how to dispute errors on your credit reports.)

And Your Scores Change

Scores change. In fact, these numbers are created when they are requested. If new information about your credit is reported to the credit reporting agencies, then the next time your score is requested and calculated, it will likely be different. That means that checking your credit scores shouldn’t be a one-time event. Monitoring your scores over time will allow you to see how they’re changing and spot any problems.

So, What Is a Good Credit Score?

Most credit scores have a range of 300 to 850. Using this range, a good credit score typically falls in the 700 to 749 range. But, as we mentioned, defining a “good” score depends on what issuer is looking at your scores and for what reason, so there is a lot of variance. For your own monitoring purposes, it’s a good idea to choose one or two scores and keep an eye on them. This way, you’re comparing apples to apples and can see if there are improvements to your scores because of your improved financial choices. You can also watch them for a sudden drop, as this can be a sign of identity theft.

Don’t Forget Your Credit Reports

Your score is only as good as the information behind it. The scores are typically calculated using information in one of your three credit reports from the main credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. If that information is wrong, then this number won’t accurately reflect your creditworthiness. For that reason, it’s important to also get your free annual credit reports to understand the finer details about your credit, as well as to make sure the reports don’t contain mistakes. You’ll want to review each of them, as not every place reports to each credit bureau, so the information on your reports may be slightly different. You can access your free credit reports every 12 months by visiting

This article has been updated. It was originally published April 30, 2014.

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