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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 April 2021, approximately 23.3% of U.S. adults could say they earned a FICO score of 800 or above. Around 39.5% of U.S. consumers have a score between 700 and 799.

Despite the fact that the idea of “perfect” is 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 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

34 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 Vaughn

46 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 Droske

53 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 Ulzheimer

50 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 have avoided credit. In fact, they all have a TON of credit cards.

But they use them wisely. None have recent negative marks on their credit reports, and keep their monthly balances low relative to their total credit limit. Last but not least, they 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. Length of credit history makes up 15% of your FICO score. 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 are the types 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 multiple hard inquiries on your credit report, it could ding your score by 5-10 points each inquiry. 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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Marcus by Goldman Sachs Review 2021

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Marcus by Goldman Sachs

Marcus by Goldman Sachs is the online-only branch of the famed Goldman Sachs bank. It is a simple, streamlined bank with only two categories of accounts: savings accounts and CDs.

With that said, Marcus by Goldman Sachs isn’t likely to be your bank for day-to-day transactions, but rather one where you can sock away your savings in a separate spot and potentially earn an even higher return than at your normal bank. And for this purpose, it does its job well: Account APYs are much higher than the national average, with few fees and low (or no) minimum deposit requirements.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs savings accounts 3 out of 5

High Yield Online Savings Account
  • APY:0.50%
  • Minimum balance: $0
  • Monthly fee: $0

The savings account offered by Marcus by Goldman Sachs is a particularly good choice if you’re looking to keep your savings separate from your normal everyday banking. You might want to do this if, for example, you’ve reached the limit of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) coverage at your current bank (typically up to $250,000), or if you simply want to put the cookie jar a bit further out of reach so you don’t dip your hand in too early.

This account is especially well-suited for that goal because it also offers a solid rate, so you’ll have more money when you’re ready to come back to it. Even better, there are no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirement.


on Marcus By Goldman Sachs’s secure website

Member FDIC

For more options, check out some of the other best savings account choices.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs checking accounts 0 out of 5

Marcus by Goldman Sachs does not offer a checking account.

If you are interested in opening a checking account, here are some of our picks for the best checking accounts.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs CDs 3.5 out of 5

TermAPYMinimum Deposit to Open & Earn APY
1 year0.55%$500
3 years 0.65%$500
5 years0.80%$500

The CDs offered by Marcus by Goldman Sachs are about as hassle-free as they come. You can set your account up within a few minutes, and the minimum deposit required — $500 — is relatively low compared to many other banks. The bank also offers a wide range of term lengths, from six months up to six years.

You’ll also get a 10-day rate guarantee so that if CD rates rise shortly after you open your account, you will automatically get bumped up to the new rate. Marcus by Goldman Sachs also has a no-penalty CD that lets you withdraw your money early without any fees, although it’s only offered in one-term length (7-month CD).

If you don’t have the no-penalty CD and withdraw your money before your CD reaches maturity, however, you will face an early withdrawal penalty. This penalty ranges from 90 to 365 days of simple interest on the principal, depending on your term length (longer terms have stiffer penalties).

You will have a 10-day grace period before your CD renews to withdraw all or some of your funds or to renew your CD with the same term or a different one.


on Marcus By Goldman Sachs’s secure website

Member FDIC

For more options aside from Marcus by Goldman Sachs, check out our top picks for CDs here.

Customer experience at Marcus by Goldman Sachs

In terms of customer support, Marcus by Goldman Sachs offers U.S.-based phone support (for everyone) and live chat support (for those logged into their account) seven days a week.

Since these are online-only accounts, Marcus by Goldman Sachs offers robust platforms for digitally managing your account. Aside from accessing your online account on your computer, there’s also a mobile app available that can help you grow your savings, such as by showing your progress toward your goals. You can also see “Marcus Insights” if you link your other accounts, which can show things like how much you spend each month compared to your savings and income, and more.

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What Is a Perfect Credit Score, and Why Does It Matter?

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A perfect credit score is 850 — specifically, that’s the highest FICO score. FICO is the scoring model most commonly used to determine, in part, how trustworthy you are as a borrower and what kinds of terms lenders could extend to you.

FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850, and your score is based on information in your credit reports. Think of it as your financial report card: The higher your credit score, the more liable you are to find lenders willing to work with you and offer you lower fees. This is true across all kinds of loans, from mortgages to auto loans, credit cards and more.

FICO credit score range: Where do you fall?

The average FICO credit score is 703, according to Experian’s 2019 Consumer Credit Review. The average bottomed at 686 during the housing crisis in 2009, when there was a sharp increase in foreclosures, but since then, the average has steadily risen.

To see where you stand, consider FICO’s credit score range:

FICO score chart
Credit score rangeRating
740-799Very good
300-579Very poor

Factors that affect your credit score

Your credit score is determined by a number of factors, from your payment history to the types of credit accounts you have open. Here’s a closer look:

  • Payment history (35%): Your track record for making on-time and in-full payments on credit affects a large chunk of your credit score. Late payments, delinquent accounts and debt in collections can adversely affect your credit.
  • Amounts owed (30%): How much money you owe on credit accounts can negatively affect your credit if it appears that your finances are stretched thin. Maxed-out credit cards, for example, can hurt your credit score.
  • Length of credit history (15%): A long credit history can positively affect your credit. On the flip side, a short credit history could be harmful, as there’s less evidence that you can manage credit for long periods of time. Factors assessed for this part of the score include the average ages of all accounts and how long it’s been since you’ve used them.
  • Credit mix (10%): Showing an ability to manage different types of credit products can have a positive influence on your credit score.
  • New credit (10%): Opening several credit accounts at once can be a red flag.

Benefits of a strong credit score

Lower interest rates

If you’ve got strong credit, you may qualify for competitive offers from a wide variety of lenders, whether you need a personal loan, auto loan or a line of credit. In general, a lower interest rate translates to a lower cost of borrowing. Over time, low interest rates can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on a loan.

Higher loan amounts and credit limits

You may also be able to borrow larger amounts of money compared to borrowers with poor credit. For example, you may be able to get a credit card with a $30,000 credit limit versus a $10,000 limit. You may also qualify for credit cards with low-APR introductory offers and rewards.

Better housing opportunities

Mortgage lenders and landlords want to know that you’re going to be responsible and honor your financial obligations. When it comes to a mortgage, your credit — among other factors — will affect your eligibility as well as the terms you receive.

For renters, many landlords run credit checks to see if you’re current on your accounts and have a positive rental and payment history. A good credit score could land you the rental you want and help you avoid needing to go the extra mile to prove you’d be a reliable renter.

Lower insurance premiums

The higher your credit score, the better chance for lower premiums on insurance, for items like your car or home. That’s because higher credit scores may be associated with a lower rate of filed claims. Insurance providers, meanwhile, may see lower credit scores as representing a higher risk and potential for more filed claims.

Better cell phone deals

Whether you’re hoping to snag the latest cell phone, sign up for a new cell phone plan or score special financing on a gadget, your credit score can affect your eligibility. In general, premium offers may be reserved for those with stronger credit.

Don’t fret if you don’t have the highest credit score

Credit scores are not fixed — they’re constantly fluctuating with everyday actions. Making purchases with your credit card and paying down your credit card balance, for example, affect your credit. Your score is also affected by things you can’t control, such as the age of your accounts.

That said, if you reach that perfect 850 credit score, you may not remain there long. But lenders don’t particularly care whether your score is 850 or 790, noted credit expert John Ulzheimer, who describes a score of 760 or above as “the sweet spot for credit.”

Your credit isn’t the only factor that affects your eligibility for credit. Your income and whether you own your home can also influence your eligibility, for example.

How to get an 850 credit score — or get closer to one

Pay your bills on time

Consumers with pristine credit never miss a payment. They consistently pay their bills on time, while the average American, according to analysis by LendingTree, has about six late payments in their credit history. If you need help paying bills on time, consider setting up autopay or some other system that can work for you.

Reduce your credit card balance

Most experts recommend keeping your credit utilization rate below 30% — though those with at or near-perfect credit scores typically keep that utilization rate below 7%, according to Ulzheimer. So, consider chipping away at those credit card balances and minimizing how much you charge if you want to work toward higher credit.

Apply for credit strategically

You should only apply for credit when it makes financial sense to do so. Opening a bunch of new accounts, especially within a short period of time, may suggest that you’re financially squeezed and taking on more debt than you can handle — a credit score no-no.

Keep unused credit cards open

Keeping old credit cards open — as long as they’re not costing you money in annual fees — is a smart strategy, as closing an account may increase your credit utilization ratio. Owing the same amount but having fewer open accounts may lower your credit score.

However, credit card issuers may close old, unused accounts, so you should periodically make a small purchase on old accounts you want to keep open — just remember to pay them off to avoid interest.

Dispute any inaccuracies in your credit reports

Be sure to check your credit reports regularly at the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Inaccuracies and mistakes can — and do — occur, perhaps more often than you realize. If you see errors, dispute the information as soon as possible as they could be dragging down your credit score.

Monitor your credit regularly

Consider credit monitoring to make sure your efforts to achieve credit score perfection are accurately reflected. Credit monitoring services can help you spot inaccuracies, and even possible identity theft. My LendingTree is one service that offers credit monitoring, and can also help you shop for loans.