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4 People With Perfect Credit Scores Tell Us How They Did It

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Have you always dreamed of being able to say you have a perfect credit score — that all-important 850 on the FICO scale?

First, you should know that having an 850 credit score isn’t really all that important. In fact, the real “perfect credit score” is closer to the 760 mark. Why? Because that’s about as high as your score needs to be to get the best treatment from lenders.

As of 2018, approximately 22% of U.S. adults could say they earned a FICO score of 800 or above. Around 36% of U.S. consumers have a score between 700 and 799.

Despite the fact that the idea of “perfect” is, in this realm, something of an illusion, you should try to get the best score you possibly can. To give you some ideas of how you might do this, we have profiled four people who have perfect (or darn near perfect) credit scores.

To keep things fair and consistent, we asked everyone to run their FICO score using the free Discover credit score tool. (This FICO score is based on data from Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus.)

What we found were four very different pictures of “perfection” — and what it takes to achieve it.

Dominique Brown

Dominique Brown

32 years old
Alexandria, Va.

His score: 850

His credit stats: Dominique has 25 revolving credit accounts on his credit report and another 14 in the form of installment loans (as a REALTOR, he invests in real estate properties). Overall, the average age of these accounts is just under 15 years. Dominique has one hard and fast rule about how much available credit his family uses: “We never go over 20% utilization ever in any billing period.” He’s not kidding. His credit report shows a super low utilization rate of 2%.

How he uses credit: Dominique’s credit card habits begin and end with his budget. “In my house, we plan every dime that we make before the month starts,” he said. “For every purchase that we can, we put it on the credit card and just pay it off in full by the due date.” Because he pre-plans his monthly earnings and spending, Dominique never worries about needing enough to afford a certain bill. And by using credit almost exclusively, he earns tons of rewards points.

His secret: Dominique credits his mother with instilling good financial habits in him at an early age. “She would give me an allowance every two weeks for chores, and I had to manage my money for savings, fun and goals, just like an adult,” he said. His mother also gave him three rules to live by: Save 10% of his money, always stick to a budget and never spend more than he earned.

Thoughts on hitting 850: “This may sound weird to some, but to have an 850 credit score was not a milestone for me financially,” he said. “I realized a long time ago that your credit score is only half the battle … cash flow management is what matters the most.”

Brenda

Brenda Vaughn

44 years old
Athens, Ga.

Her score: 825

Her credit stats: Brenda has six credit cards, including three general-use credit cards (cards that can be used anywhere) and three retail store credit cards. Her credit history is 25 years old. She has a mortgage loan with a balance. And she has borrowed money to buy cars and to pay for tuition.

How she uses credit: Brenda still has the first credit card she opened at age 19, at her mother’s urging. She admits it took her a while to get the hang of it. “I didn’t always [pay my bill on time], and it was out of control a couple of times,” she said. Nowadays, she uses her cards primarily to earn cash back, and pays them off every month. “My parents gave me a set amount of money each month while I was in college and said if I needed more, then I needed to get a job, and so I did,” she said.

Her secret: Even with a history of missed payments on her accounts, Brenda’s score is incredible. She has time on her side there. Because she hasn’t missed a payment over the past 15 years, those old negative marks have long been removed from her credit report. Negative marks will generally only stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

Jim

Jim Droske

51 years old
Willowbrook, Ill.

His score: 830

His credit stats: Jim has nine credit cards and, when we spoke with him, he had a total of $7,720 on those cards. That balance seems pretty high, but because he has such a high total available credit across all his cards — $88,000 — his utilization rate is very low. He’s using only 9% of the credit he could be using. Jim’s credit history is 32 years old, and the average age of his accounts is about 10 years.

His secret: To put it simply, Jim is the perfect credit customer. He’s never missed a payment and he’s never had an account go to collections. At age 24, Jim was thrown into a job in finance, running the lending department at an auto dealer. He saw firsthand how important credit scores were when it came to getting the best finance rates from lenders.

“I read a lot about how credit and credit scores work, and still do,” he said. With Jim’s long credit history and perfect payment record, it’s no wonder his credit is stellar.

How he uses credit: Jim is steadfast about what he charges — and what he doesn’t. “I only use credit for bigger purchases that can not reasonably be paid for in cash,” he said. “I do not charge for points, and always pay much more than the minimum payment due until it is paid off.”

john

John Ulzheimer

48 years old
Atlanta, Ga.

My score: 850

My secret: Yes, I also have a perfect credit score. Like most of the people I spoke with for this piece, I have one huge advantage here: I’m kind of old! And that means my credit history is older than average — 22 years and counting.

Fortunately, credit scoring models take age into account when they calculate scores. The older your credit history, the higher you score will be. I also have a stellar payment history. I can say I haven’t missed any payments since 1991, when I graduated from college and started working at Equifax.

My credit stats: I have 13 credit cards and a total of 19 accounts, active and inactive on my credit report. As of last month, I carried a total of $9,500 on those cards, with a total credit capacity of $133,000. That makes my utilization rate a low 7%.

How I use credit: I pay my cards in full each month and have never carried a balance. The beauty of not carrying a balance is that I never have to pay interest, no matter what my APR is. In fact, I have no idea what my APRs are, because they’re irrelevant to me. I don’t shy away from applying for credit but only do so when I actually need it. I learned about credit from my years working for Equifax and FICO.

So what’s the real secret to getting a perfect (or almost perfect) credit score?

Here’s what everyone profiled in this piece has in common: None of us avoid credit. In fact, we all have a TON of credit cards.

But we use them wisely. None of us have negative marks on our credit reports, and we keep our monthly balances low relative to our total credit limit. Last but not least, we all have credit histories that are at least 15 years old, which makes up 15% of your FICO score alone. Keep in mind that, while your FICO score isn’t your only credit score, it is the one used most by lenders.

What else makes up your FICO score? As you work to get your best score, keep this five-part breakdown in mind.

  1. The most important factor of your credit score is your payment history, which makes up 35% of the total. In short: If you make late payments, you will damage your score. If you make on-time payments, you’ll help boost your score. Do everything you can to avoid ever sending a payment in late. Setting up autopay, so you can be sure to never forget a payment, could be a great idea.
  2. Amounts owed makes up 30% of your score. This includes your credit utilization. As discussed before, the lower your utilization rate (that is, the amount you have charged on your cards versus the total amount of credit available to you), the better it is for your score.
  3. As noted above, the length of your credit history makes up 15% of your FICO score total. You may have some older cards you rarely use, and perhaps you think it would be best to cancel them. This would actually be the wrong move to make on your journey to a strong credit score — the longer your credit history, the better. So even if you rarely use those cards, you should consider making small purchases on them and paying those balances off in order to keep them in rotation, and keep your credit history intact. (Note: Sometimes credit card issuers will cancel a card if it is never used.)
  4. The next factor is the kind of credit you have, and this makes up 10% of your score. It is best to have different kinds of credit (installment loans including auto and mortgage loans, as well as revolving credit, such as credit cards) rather than just one type.
  5. New credit makes up another 10% of your score. If you aim to open up a lot of new credit at around the same time, resulting in hard inquiries on your credit report, it could ding your score by a small amount. However, in general, you should not fear applying for new credit — as long as you use it responsibly, it’s more likely to help your score over the long run than to hurt it. If you are in the market for a mortgage, however, you should avoid opening up any new credit card accounts if possible, as it could have a negative effect on the process.

There are several ways you can access your credit score for free so you can keep on top of it. MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, has a credit monitoring service available to anyone who wants to sign up. LendingTree uses the VantageScore model, which is slightly different than the FICO model but uses the same scoring system.

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The Perfect Credit Score Isn’t Really 850

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Do you really need an 850 credit score to get the best rates?

Most people assume that in order to get the best treatment from lenders, you need to have perfect credit. Across both of the most common credit scoring brands, FICO and VantageScore, that highest score is 850 out of the now-standard range of 300 to 850.

But the truth is that while it’s nice to boast that you’ve maxed out your credit score, it’s almost impossible to achieve the magical 850. It’s also entirely unnecessary. There is no lender or credit product that requires you to have a credit score of 850 in order to be approved.  There is no lender or credit product that requires you to have a credit score of 850 in order to earn the best terms. In fact, your credit scores can be 90 to 130 points off the maximum and still result in your getting approved for the best deals from mainstream lenders.

To put it bluntly, 850 doesn’t buy you anything but bragging rights.

Case in point, according to Informa Research, which tracks interest rates by credit scores on a daily basis, the lowest rates offered on various mortgage related loans are being offered to people with scores at or higher than 760. And, the lowest rates offered on various auto loans are being offered to people with scores at or higher than 720.

The quest for a perfect 850 is often given different fictitious monikers like “Triple-A Credit” or “A+ Credit”, when in reality there is no such designation in the world of consumer credit scoring.  Your credit “rating” is the number, whether it’s an 850 or a 525.

Earning the ever-elusive 850 credit score requires that you have a statistically perfect credit report that indicates you are completely void of any sort of credit risk. But again, this is unnecessary and you will do just fine with 760 or better, which is a much easier target to hit.

Note: Looking for some personalized help with improving your credit score? Click the button below to get a free credit consultation which includes a credit analyst pulling and reviewing your credit report to answer any questions you may have!

How to get to 760

A score of 760 doesn’t require perfection. You can even have derogatory entries (like a missed payment) and still get there. It just requires that these negative marks are older and limited. You can even have a balance on your credit card and still score at or above 760. Your best bet is to use 10% or less of your card’s credit limits.  That means no more than a $1,000 balance for every $10,000 in credit limits across all of your cards.

The other targets are harder to hit because they’re not entirely in your control.  For example, the older your credit history is the better you’re going to score. Since you can’t exactly control time, this will be one of those areas where you’ll do better organically as time passes.

Account diversity is also a tough one to control. People will score better if they’ve got a record of managing different types of accounts, such as credit cards, student loans, auto loans, and mortgages. Nobody will (or should) go out and buy a car or a house just to benefit their credit scores. This is one of the metrics where you will improve as time passes and you build a history of auto loans and mortgages.

If all of this seems too complicated then let’s make it really simple. If you pay all of your bills on time all the time, apply for credit only when you actually need it and use credit cards sparingly then you’re going to earn and maintain great credit scores. It would be impossible for you not to do so.

Still obsessed with hitting 850?

If you are still obsessed with credit score perfection then there are some milestones that are going to need to be met and maintained.

A perfect payment history. Your credit report is going to have to be void of any negative information, and there are no exceptions. If you’ve got derogatory entries like late payments, liens, judgments, collections, defaults and the like then an 850 is not in the cards for you.

A low utilization rate. Utilization plays a big role in your score and it can be a little confusing. Essentially, credit scoring models look at your total statement balances across all your cards and compare it to your total available credit limit. They don’t even give you bonus points if you pay that balance off in full each month. They simply look at how much your balance comes out to with each billing cycle. The lower your total statement balances are, the better off you are score-wise. To get the perfect 850, don’t even think about carrying a balance on your cards. You need to be at or close to zero percent.

You’ve shown a long history of good behavior. If you apply for credit too often, have limited credit score information or have a young credit report then you’re not going to max out your score. You can’t open a bunch of accounts in a short period of time without hurting your scores. It reduces the average age of your credit and it also means a hard credit inquiry on your account, which can also ding your score. Again, this is no big deal if you’re shooting for the ideal credit score of 760 (or in the neighborhood of that) but it can certainly hurt you on your path to 850.

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As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.49% (3.49% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected). Terms Apply. NMLS #1136

Have more questions about your credit score? Send us an e-mail at [email protected] 

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What Everyone Should Know About the New VantageScore 4.0 Credit Score

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View Your Free FICO Score for all 3 Credit Bureaus

In the world of consumer credit reporting and credit scoring moves at glacial speed. Every few years credit scoring systems are rebuilt or, more formally, redeveloped.  But, it’s rare that the newer versions of credit scoring systems are meaningfully different than their predecessors.

However, today VantageScore Solutions announced the release of the 4th generation of their VantageScore credit score which will become available from the three credit reporting agencies in the Fall of 2017, and it’s a game changer.

What is the VantageScore Credit Score

VantageScore Solutions was created by the three credit reporting agencies in 2006. The VantageScore credit score is a tri-bureau credit scoring model, meaning it is available for purchase and use from all three of the credit reporting agencies. The score is scaled 300 to 850, and the higher the score the better you look to lenders. According to VantageScore some 8 billion of their scores were used during the 12-month period between July 2015 and June 2016.

How is VantageScore 4.0 Different Than Prior Versions

VantageScore 4.0 is the only credit scoring system that considers your “trended” credit data.

What trended data says about the consumer is whether they’re paying their credit card balances in full each month, or if they’re just paying a small amount and revolving some or most of the balances to the next month. In the older form of credit reporting, prior to trended data, there was no way to distinguish between someone who paid in full each month from someone who paid a small amount and rolled the remaining unpaid balance to the next month.

Several years ago the credit reporting agencies began maintaining and reporting the historical balances and payments made on your credit card accounts. So rather than just reporting what your balance was last month, all three credit bureaus now report the historical balances and the amount you paid going back 24 months. This information is being called “Trended Data.”  You can see your trended data by looking at your credit reports via www.annualcreditreport.com.

Why does trending data matter?

In short, people who do not pay their cards in full each month are riskier than people who do pay them off in full each month.

That’s not anecdotal. TransUnion performed an analysis comparing the risk between transactors and revolvers and the results were staggering. People who do NOT pay their cards off in full each month are 3 to 5 times riskier than people who do pay in full each month. But until VantageScore 4.0, there was no difference in credit scores for someone pays in full each month versus not doing so. That’s why this is a big deal for lenders…it’s a materially better scoring model.

When Will Lenders Start Using the New Score?

This is the million dollar question…when? Converting to a new credit score is expensive and time consuming, and not mandatory.  Because of that, the industry tends to take a very long time fully adopting new scoring systems. Even FICO 9, the most current version of FICO’s credit score, doesn’t have a critical mass of users and it has been commercially available since late 2014. But, the features of VantageScore 4.0 are very compelling so it’s reasonable to expect lenders to be very interested as soon as the model goes live at the credit bureaus.

Having said that, VantageScore has partnerships with a variety of websites, like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, that give their scores away to the sites’ registered users. Converting to newer score version is much easier for these websites because they don’t have the same barriers that lenders have. VantageScore 4.0 will likely be live and available from one or more of these websites not long after it goes live in the Fall of 2017.

What does this mean for you?

  1. It will become more important to pay your bill in full each month.

For you, this new model underscores the importance of paying your card in full each month. The average interest rate on a credit card is about 16% so it’s expensive to revolve balances. Notwithstanding the fact that you’re paying interest on the unpaid balance, now by not paying your balance in full your VantageScore 4.0 score is likely to be lower because you’re a riskier consumer. Conversely, those of you who do make it a practice to pay your cards in full each month, your VantageScore 4.0 score is likely to be higher because you’re a less risky consumer…and you’re not paying interest.

  1. Liens and judgments won’t hurt your score quite as much.

On or about July 1, 2017 the credit reporting agencies will remove most of the judgments and about ½ of the tax liens from credit reports. VantageScore 4.0 has been engineered to be less reliant on liens and judgments because, not surprisingly, there will be considerably fewer incidents where those public records find their way to credit reports. This isn’t really a big deal for consumers but it is a very big deal for lenders that will rely on the new score.

  1. Medical collections less than six months old won’t hurt your score at all.

Further, VantageScore 4.0 will ignore medical collections that are less than six months old, as in they won’t hurt your score at all. And the credit bureaus, as part of the NCAP, will remove medical collections that are paid or are being paid by an insurance company. The hypothesis, which makes perfect sense, is to avoid any unfair score impact caused by the inefficient insurance claim process. And for those medical collections that are older than six months and are not paid by insurance, which will remain on credit reports, VantageScore 4.0 will discount them so they don’t have as much of a negative impact as non-medical collections.

The Bottom Line: The VantageScore 4.0 is better for consumers and better for lenders.

The changes that were made benefit consumers who pay their cards off each month, and/or have medical collections. The changes benefit lenders because the score is considerably more powerful because of the consideration of the trended data information. It’s rare that a new scoring system is a true win-win for consumers and lenders…and VantageScore 4.0 is just that.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.