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Millennials improved credit scores more than any other generation in 2020: Here's the average FICO score by age

“Your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your financial life.”

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There's a lot that separates millennials from the other generations when it comes to their finances, but one big difference is how much they increased their credit scores last year.

The average FICO score for U.S. consumers jumped across each age group, hitting a record 710 in 2020. Among Americans ages 24 to 39, though, the typical score rose 11 points, more than any other group.

Gen Xers, currently ages 40 through 55, came in just one point shy, bumping their score an average 10 points.

FICO's data tracks how credit scores improved from 2019 to 2020, and it's likely that consumers cutting back on spending and paying bills on time contributed to a jump in scores, says Ted Rossman, an analyst at CreditCards.com. In the last 18 months, "many government stimulus programs helped tremendously," he says. "People got extra cash to pay their bills, and they also got permission to skip some payments without hurting their credit scores."

"There were fewer temptations to spend money on vacations, entertainment, [and] browsing at the mall," Rossman adds, and "that contributed to higher scores."

Here is the average FICO score for Americans of each generation.

Gen Z, ages 18 to 23

Average credit score in 2019: 667    
Average credit score in 2020: 674    
Point increase: 7

Millennials, ages 24 to 39

Average credit score in 2019: 668    
Average credit score in 2020: 679    
Point increase: 11

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Gen X, ages 40 to 55

Average credit score in 2019: 688    
Average credit score in 2020: 698    
Point increase: 10

Baby Boomers, ages 56 to 74

Average credit score in 2019: 731
Average credit score in 2020: 736    
Point increase: 5

Silent Generation, ages 75 and older        

Average credit score in 2019: 757
Average credit score in 2020: 758
Point increase: 1

What your FICO score means for your credit

Your credit score represents your trustworthiness to lenders: The better it is, the more likely you are to get a good auto loan or mortgage rate. Many creditors use the FICO scoring system, which combines financial data from the major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Scores of 580 and below rank as "poor" on FICO's scale, while anything 800 and above is "excellent."

While a high score can help save you money, you don't need to strive for perfection: "For most people, a credit score from 760 to 780, in that range, will qualify you for what lenders call their 'prime rate' or their lowest rate possible," Chris Browning, founder of personal finance podcast Popcorn Finance, previously told Grow.

3 ways to improve your credit score at each age

It's never too early or late to start improving your credit. Here are three expert-recommended strategies that can bump up your score.

  • Keep your utilization rate low. This is the measure of how much credit you've spent versus the card's limit. The optimal rate is less than 30% of your available credit. If you're having trouble, try "making an extra payment to knock the balance down before the statement even comes out," says Rossman. "Or perhaps asking for a higher limit."
  • Pay your balance in full and on time. Another tip: Pay your full credit card balance before it's past-due, along with any other bills that may impact your score, such as loans. Payment history alone accounts for up to 35% of your FICO score and missed payments can linger on your credit report.
  • Try alternative scoring systems. Aside from some financial breaks given during the pandemic, lenders will now consider nontraditional payments that don't normally count on your credit. Look into programs like Experian Boost and eCredable, Rossman suggests. Experian Boost, for example, looks at your bank statements to find qualifying on-time payments (such as utility payments, cellphone bills, and streaming subscriptions) that can factor in to increase your overall score: "If you've paid these eligible accounts on time, your score should go up once they get added to your credit report."
[Americans] saved more, spent less, and paid down debt ... [which] contributed to higher scores.
Ted Rossman
CreditCards.com

The length of your credit history affects your score, too, so try to avoid closing out old cards if you can, experts say, and don't open too many new ones at once. That could lead to numerous hard inquires on your report.

And remember to check in on your score often.

"It's a good idea to check your credit scores and reports at least every three or four months," Rossman says. You can get reports free from each of the three bureaus or at AnnualCreditReport.com. "It's really important because your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your financial life."

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