Credit scores. It seems like we’re talking about them more than ever. Where to get them, how to track them, and the best ways to improve them.
But why is your credit score so important to so many lenders? What does it tell them about you and how does it help them make decisions about what kind of loan you may be approved for?
Or if you’ll receive one at all?
We’re here to demystify “creditworthiness” in the eyes of some lenders and break down different credit scores, so you can feel more prepared — and less confused, and perhaps a little less frustrated — when you apply for a loan.
Credit scores tell most lenders how likely you are to repay them
Think of your credit score as a financial report card. When lenders pull your credit report, one of the things they look at is your credit score — your “grades,” so to speak — and, based on how high or low your number is, they can estimate how much risk you present as a borrower.
Instead of As, Bs, Cs, and so on, your three-digit credit score is grouped into the following categories (also known as a credit score scale): poor, fair, good, very good, and excellent. While these categories differ slightly between the two main credit calculators (FICO® credit score and VantageScore®)1, they generally fall into the following ranges:
- Poor – VantageScore: 300-600; FICO: 300-579
- Fair – VantageScore: 601-660; FICO: 580-669
- Good – VantageScore: 661-780; FICO: 670-739
- Very Good – (FICO only): 740 to 799
- Excellent – VantageScore: 781-850; FICO: 800-850
(Learn more about FICO vs. Vantage scores here.)
Where your credit score falls tells many lenders a lot about your financial history. And while it’s not the only factor that determines whether or not you’ll get a loan — and the loan terms you’ll receive — it can be an important one.
What credit report information do most lenders use to make their decisions?
When lenders pull your credit report from the 3 credit bureaus — Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion® — they’ll be able to see much more than where you fall on the credit score scale.
Here’s some of what they’ll review:
- If you pay your bills on time.
Lenders want to know you pay your bills on time. They also want to know if you have any accounts in collection or if you’ve declared bankruptcy. There’s a reason payment history is a whopping 35% of your FICO score.2 The more responsible you are with the bills you already have, the more likely you are to be responsible with a new one.
- How much credit you’re using. (Also known as credit utilization ratio.)
Lenders also like to see that you haven’t used up all of your available credit so you have the least amount of debt possible. For example, if you have $5,000 worth of credit on your credit cards, it looks bad to lenders if you’re already using $4,000 of it. A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit utilization at 30% or less.3
- Your debt-to-income ratio.
Also known as your DTI, your debt-to-income ratio tells lenders you have enough income to pay your debts. This is why lenders request your income along with mortgage or rent, car payments, and other monthly bills. They want to see that even after paying all your bills, you’ll still have enough money to pay them as well. (The lower your DTI the better. You can calculate your own DTI here.)
- How long you’ve had your accounts.
That credit card you’ve had for years and years can be a good thing, especially if you’ve had a great payment history. The length of time you’ve had an account in good standing—as well as the diversity of your accounts (auto loan, mortgage, etc.) — looks good to lenders because it demonstrates that you have a history of responsible borrowing with different creditors.
The bottom line? Lenders want to be confident you’ll pay them back.
The financial industry’s credit model can sometimes feel like a harsh way of deciding who’s worthy enough for a loan, especially if your credit score could use improvement. It’s important to remember that lenders simply want to rest assured that you’ll pay them back, and your credit score, as well as your credit report, helps them do that.
It’s also important to remember there are lenders that look at more than your credit score. You just have to take time to find one that will review your individual situation to help you find the right solution.
Look your best to lenders by keeping an eye on your credit.
No matter what type of credit score you have, it’s important to keep track of your credit report so you can not only be approved for loans, but get the very best rates for repayment. As mandated by the federal government, every U.S. citizen is entitled to one free credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus each year.4 It’s a great way to prevent unwelcome surprises and work your way to excellent credit.