A good credit score can help you get the best rate on a credit card, auto loan, mortgage, or other loans and lines of credit. However, "good" doesn't always mean a score of 850 or even 800, experts say. In fact, a much lower score can help you get good interest rates, says Chris Browning, founder of personal finance podcast Popcorn Finance.
"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," he says. "Anything above that really does nothing for you."
Video by Mariam Abdallah
Here is a better way to think about your credit score, according to a certified financial planner. Plus, how to improve it.
People tend to get "worked up" about obtaining the perfect credit score, even if they are unsure about how earning one will actually affect them, says Kevin Mahoney, a certified financial planner and founder of Illumint in Washington, D.C. The desire to get the perfect credit score "often comes out of uncertainty rather than out of a specific intention for a short-term goal they are pursuing," he says.
Obsessively checking your credit score can often be counterproductive. "Checking your score every day or every week will probably lead to more stress than any tangible benefit," says Mahoney.
Instead, Mahoney says you should focus on what you can control. Here are three ways to do that.
- Lower your credit card utilization rate. Your credit utilization rate is the amount of credit you are using divided by the credit limit. It accounts for 30% of your credit score, based on the FICO model. You can lower this by paying down your balance each month and keeping cards you don't use open. The goal is to show you are using as little credit as possible.
- Monitor your credit report for errors. Mistakes in credit reports are common. "Make sure there is not inaccurate information there that may be hurting your credit score, including fraud," Mahoney says.
- Make payments on time. Set up automatic payments or reminders to ensure you aren't late. Your payment history is one of the biggest factors in your credit score, and making payments on time is an easy way to improve or maintain your score.
But remember, you might not see results right away, Mahoney adds: "This won't boost your credit score overnight. Part of this is not just consistent habits, but the understanding that patience is required."
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