Whether you are already have a good credit score, or hope to get there in the future, you have probably wondered at some point, “What is the best credit score?” or, “What is the highest credit score possible?” Some people ask this question because they want to get their credit score and they are looking for the score that is going to be the most “accurate.” Others ask because they want to know if they have a good credit score. And some people are interested in both: they want to build or maintain a good credit score – and they want it to get it from the best source.
So What’s the Best Credit Score?
Here’s the short answer: Most credit scoring models follow a credit score range of 300 to 850 with that 850 being the “best” score you can net. As for what credit scoring model is the best, well, that’s subjective — and, really, it’s up to the lender or the consumer to decide. However, we can tell you that FICO and VantageScore are among the most widely known models.
So There Is No ‘Best’ Credit Score?
Pretty much. Here’s the long answer: First, you have to understand there are dozens of credit scoring models that lenders use. To say that they are all the same, or that one is the “best” would be like saying all tennis shoes are the same or that one particular shoe is the best. Even among tennis shoes, there are many different styles customized for a particular use, like running versus walking. And while you may find Nike to be the best fitting for your feet, someone else might argue another brand fits them better.
Similarly, credit scores are often customized for a particular industry (auto lending, for example, or insurance) and even for an individual lender. Different scores may run on a different credit score range or “scale.” Sure, most follow that 300 to 850 range we mentioned earlier, but there are outliers. (Old school VantageScore 1.0 and VantageScore 2.0, for instance, used a scale range of 501 to 990.)
The other thing you need to understand is that your credit score is only as good as the information used to create it. This time let’s use a hamburger as an example. You can make one using the best quality beef or you can make one with low quality beef and throw in a lot of other fillers. Both can be called “burgers,” but one is going to taste a lot better than the other.
Similarly, your credit score is only as “good” as the ingredients that go into it. And the ingredients are the information in your credit report provided by Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. If there are mistakes or outdated information in your credit report, then the score that is produced won’t be accurate. And if you aren’t doing the things that build great credit (paying on time, for example) then the number that is produced will reflect that.
Get Your Reports & Score
That’s why, if you want to get your credit score and see where you stand, you should do two things:
Review Your Credit Reports
Each year, you are entitled to free annual credit reports from each of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. While some experts recommend staggering your requests for these reports, the first time you review them you may want to check all three. These agencies don’t share information with each other, and if there is a mistake on any of your reports you will want to find out as quickly as possible. If you do find an error, you can go here to learn how to dispute it.
Review Your Credit Scores
You can get two free credit scores each month using Credit.com’s free credit report snapshot. You will also get an easy-to-understand breakdown of the factors impacting your credit scores. Checking your own score this way doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t affect your score.
But How Will I Know if All My Scores Are Good?
By focusing less on that three-digit number and more on the information that’s driving it. On your credit report snapshot, for instance, you’ll get letter grades for the five major factors of credit scores: payment history, amount of debt or “credit utilization”, credit age, account mix and credit inquiries. An “A” indicates you’re doing great in that particular area, while an “F” signals you’ve got some work to do. So, say you’ve got a “D” in the amount of debt category, your scores may be weighed down by high credit card balances.
Most credit scores and/credit reports will list similar risk factors. Making improvements — and monitoring the same version of your score over-time — should help you ultimately score aces across the board.
This article has been updated. It originally ran on February 20, 2014.