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Get The Highest Credit Score Possible: New Credit Card Study Reveals the Key

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Refinancing Student Loans and credit scores

Getting a high credit score can make it easier for consumers to save on life’s biggest purchases. But many Americans who are stuck with average or below average credit may find it difficult to move up the credit score ladder.

In a new study, MagnifyMoney partnered with  VantageScore Solutions to see how much credit consumers are using — and how that impacts their credit score.

In the study, VantageScore delved into the credit score profiles of U.S. consumers who are using credit cards in 2017. Scores analyzed were on a 300 – 850 scale, using the VantageScore 3.0 score model.

We decided to home in on utilization — that’s how much credit people are using compared to how much credit they have available to them. Then, we looked at how credit utilization corresponded to credit scores.

What we found is that people with excellent credit share one main trait in common: They have very low utilization rates.

If you want the highest score, you need to make sure you haven’t missed any payments in the past and don’t have any public records, collection items or judgments. However, what this data show is that, even if you have a perfect payment history, low utilization is critical to getting the highest score.

Key findings include…

  • The best scores have 16x the credit limit of the worst scores: People with the best scores (above 800) have available credit of $46,735, 16x that of the $2,816 of those with the worst scores (below 450), but their outstanding balances are about the same at $2,231 (above 800) versus $2,653 (below 450)
  • People with scores 601-650 have the biggest credit card bills: People with scores between 601 and 650 carry the biggest balances, at over $10k, or nearly 2x the average of all consumers.
  • The average credit card holder has $29,197 in credit lines. With an average balance of $5,720, the average holder is using 20% of available credit.
  • Getting above 700 is the biggest hurdle. People with scores 701-750 have average utilization of 27% versus 47% for those with scores 651-700, the biggest utilization gap of any score band. Average balances for people with scores 651-700 are about $3,000 higher than those with scores in the 701-750 range.

The Power of the Utilization Rate

One of the most influential metrics in credit scoring is called “revolving utilization.” This metric, informally referred to as the debt-to-limit ratio, calculates just how leveraged your credit cards are at any given time by comparing your balances to your credit limits. According to VantageScore, and using data provided by the three credit reporting agencies, people with credit scores above 800 have an average debt-to-limit ratio of just 5%.

To calculate the debt-to-limit ratio, you have to do a little math. The first thing you’ll do is add up the balances on all of your credit cards, which includes retail store and gas credit cards. Now add up the credit limits of those same cards and any other unused credit cards. Now you’re ready to do the math. Divide the total credit card balance by the total credit limit, then multiple that number by 100 and you’ll get your percentage.

NOTE: Do NOT include any balances or original loan amounts from installment loans such as mortgages, student loans or auto loans. Revolving utilization is only calculated from your revolving credit card accounts.

Inside the Wallet of Someone With Perfect Credit

As you can see from the chart above, those of you with VantageScore credit scores over 800 have an average debt-to-limit ratio of just 5%. The math it took to get to 5% looks something like this: You have an average total balance of $2,231 and an average total credit limit of $46,735. When you divide $2,231 by $46,735, you get 5%, which is a fantastic debt-to-limit ratio.

Inside the Wallet of Someone With Bad Credit

On the other end of the score range — those of you with the lowest possible scores, 450 and below — you have an average debt-to-limit ratio of 94%, which is very high and very poor. Your average total balance is $2,653 and an average total credit limit of $2,816. When you divide $2,653 by $2,816, you get 94%.

 

It’s important to point out that the debt-to-limit ratio is just that, a ratio. It’s all about the relationship between the balance and credit limit, not so much how large or how small your balances are, or how large or how small your credit limits are. In fact, the people whose scores are the very lowest don’t have that much more average credit card debt than those with the highest scores — $2,231 for the high scorers and $2,653 for the low scorers.

The significant difference between the two populations is in the credit limits. The folks with the highest scores have the largest total credit limit, $46,735, as compared to $2,816 for those with the lowest scores.

You can see just how problematic it is to have lower limits, because even modest credit card balances can have a seriously negative impact on your credit score.

Use These Findings to Boost Your Credit Score

Here are MagnifyMoney’s tips on improving a low credit score:

Step 1: Get a line of credit

In order to establish credit history, you need to have a form of credit. The simplest way for you to begin will be to open a credit card. If your score is low or non-existent, you’ll need to apply for a secured or store card.

  • Secured Card:  You’ll use your own money as collateral by putting down a deposit of a few hundred dollars with the bank. Typically, that amount will then be your credit limit. Once you prove you’re responsible, you can get back your deposit and upgrade to a regular credit card. [Read more here]

  • Store Card: People with a low credit score can often still get store cards because banks are more likely to approve users who apply through the store. The catch is that the interest rates are often very high. [Read more here]

Step 2: Keep your utilization rate low

Your goal should be to never exceed 30% of your credit limit. Ideally, you should be even lower than 30%, because the lower your utilization rate, the better your score will be.

We recommend you make one small purchase a month to keep your utilization low and help increase your credit score at a faster rate.

Step 3: Pay in full, and on time, each month

The easiest way to prove you’re responsible is to only charge what you can afford. Never use your credit card to buy an item you won’t be able to pay off on time and in full each month.

Being late on your payments has a very negative impact on your credit score.

There is also no advantage to only paying the minimum amount due on your card. That will only result in you paying interest, and does nothing to help your credit score. So just save yourself money and pay your entire bill.

Step 4: Avoid credit card debt

This goes hand-in-hand with step three. By only purchasing what you can pay off in full, you’ll never accumulate credit card debt.

If you’re already in debt from the misuse of credit cards, make sure you continue to pay at least the minimum due on time each month.

Paying on time is the number one indicator of a responsible borrower. You might also consider applying for a personal loan, and using the money from the loan to pay off your credit card debt.

Personal lenders have interest rates that start as low as 4.25%, and some may approve people with credit scores as low as 550. You can shop around for a personal loan without hurting your score, because the lenders will approve you using a soft inquiry (which doesn’t impact your score).

A study by MagnifyMoney parent Lending Club showed that people who paid off their credit card debt with a personal loan saw their score increase by 31% on average, right away. You can look for the best personal loans using this personal loan tool. After you pay off your credit cards with the proceeds of the loan, do not build up your debt again. Instead, just make one purchase each month and pay it off in full.

Once you pay off your cards, resist the urge to close them. Closing your cards will not only lower your utilization rate but also remove some of your credit history. The longer your credit history, the better your score may be, so closing out an older account may ding your credit.

Step 5: As your score improves, so do your options for better credit cards

You’ll start to get credit card offers as you begin to build your credit history and improve your score. Credit card companies still love sending snail mail.

Beware of any offers, especially for cashback cards, while your score is below 650. These cards typically provide little value and can smack you with high interest rates if you fail to follow step three.

Not sure if an offer is a good deal? Try checking it out in our cashback reward cards page. Our Magnify Transparency Score will let you know if it’s the real deal.

Once you get your credit score above 680, the good credit card offers will start rolling in. You can have your pick of the top-tier reward credit cards and start using your regular spending to get cash back or rack up points for travel.

Step 6: Protect your score

Once you’ve achieved a higher credit score, but sure to protect it by following these steps:

  • Always pay on time – late or missed payments will cost you dearly

  • Try to keep your credit used below 30% of your available credit

  • Be sure to check your credit reports for accuracy and signs of fraud – you’re entitled to one free report per year from each of the three credit bureaus. You can get the reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. 

If you have any questions or just want a helping hand, please reach out to us at [email protected] or tweet us @Magnify_Money.   

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.

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Credit Cards, Featured, News

Average U.S. Credit Card Debt in 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Credit card balances are at all-time highs, and absent any other relief, the recent rate cuts by the Federal Reserve will do little to slow down growth in total balances that borrowers carry month to month. And while it’s still too early to know for certain, the cash crunch many households are experiencing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic may mean even greater average monthly balance increases than in recent years.

We’ve updated our statistics on credit card debt in America to illustrate how much consumers are now taking on.

  • Americans paid banks $121 billion in credit card interest in 2019. That’s up 7% from $113 billion in interest paid in 2018, and up 56% since 2014.
  • In February 2020, the average APR on credit card accounts assessed interest was 16.61%. Although the Federal Reserve has cut the key Federal Funds rate by two percentage points since mid-2019, the more recent cuts aren’t yet reflected in lower interest assessed to balances carried from month to month.
  • Total revolving credit balances are $1.05 trillion, as of February 2020. The vast amount of this balance is from spending on credit cards from banks and retailers, while $83 billion comes from revolving balances, such as overdraft lines of credit.
  • Americans carry $687 billion in credit card debt that isn’t paid in full each month. This estimate includes people paying interest, as well as those carrying a balance on a card with a 0% intro rate.
  • 43.2% of credit card accounts aren’t paid in full each month. Those who don’t pay in full tend to have higher balances, which is why the percentage of balances not paid in full (71%) is higher than the percentage of accounts not paid in full (43.2%).
  • The average credit card balance in 2019 was $6,194 for individuals with a credit card. That’s an increase from $6,040 in 2018.

Credit card use

  • Number of Americans who actively use credit cards: 184 million as of 2019, according to TransUnion.
  • Number of Americans who carry credit card debt month to month: 77 million.
    • We estimate 42% of active card users carry debt month to month, based on the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

Credit card debt

  • Total credit card debt in the U.S. (not paid in full each month): $687 billion
  • Average APR: 16.61% (also excludes those with a 0% promotional rate for a balance transfer or purchases). This estimate comes from the Federal Reserve’s monthly reporting of APRs on accounts assessed interest by banks.

The above estimates only include the credit card balances of those who carry credit card debt from month to month — they exclude balances of those who pay in full each month.

Credit card balances

  • Total credit card balances: $1.05 trillion as of February 2020, an increase of 3.3% from February 2019. This includes credit and retail cards, and a small amount of overdraft line of credit balances.
  • Average number of credit cards per consumer: 3.1, according to Experian. This doesn’t include an average of 2.5 retail credit cards.
  • Average credit card balance: $6,194. The average consumer has $1,155 in balances on retail cards.

The above figures include the credit card statement balances of all credit card users, including those who pay their bill in full each month.

Who pays off their credit card bills?

In 2019, fewer accounts were paid in full than accounts with a balance carried from month to month. According to the American Bankers Association:

  • Revolvers (carry debt month to month): 43.2% of credit card accounts
  • Transactors (use card, but pay in full): 31.1% of credit card accounts
  • Dormant (have a card, but don’t use it actively): 25.6% of credit card accounts

Delinquency rates

Delinquency rates peaked in 2009 at nearly 7%, but in 2019 delinquency rates were 2.6%, historically well below the long-term average.

Credit card debt becomes delinquent when a bank reports a missed payment to the major credit reporting bureaus. Banks typically don’t report a missed payment until a person is at least 30 days late in paying. When a consumer doesn’t pay for at least 90 days, the credit card balance becomes seriously delinquent. Banks are very likely to take a total loss on seriously delinquent balances.

Debt burden by income

Those with the highest credit card debts aren’t necessarily the most financially insecure. According to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances (the most recent data available), the top 10% of income earners who carried credit card debt had nearly twice as much debt than the average borrower.

However, people with lower incomes have more burdensome credit card debt loads. Consumers in the lowest earning quintile had an average credit card debt of $2,100. However, their debt-to-income ratio was 13.9%. On the high end, earners in the top decile had an average of $12,500 in credit card debt, though their debt-to-income ratio was just 4.8%.

A look at American incomes and credit card debt

Income percentileMedian incomeAverage credit card debtCredit card debt-to-income ratio
0%-20%$15,100$2,10013.9%
20%-40%$31,400$3,80012.1%
40%-60%$52,700$4,4008.3%
60%-80%$86,100$6,8007.9%
80%-90%$136,000$8,7006.4%
90%-100%$260,200$12,5004.8%

Source: 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances data

Although high-income earners have more manageable credit card debt loads on average, they aren’t taking steps to pay off the debt faster than lower-income debt carriers. If an economic recession leads to job losses at all wage levels, we could see high levels of credit card debt in default.

Generational differences in credit card use

In Q2 2019, Generation X cardholders had the highest credit card balances. The average cardholder from this generation had a balance of $8,215, according to Experian. Baby boomers held an average balance of $6,949, comparatively.

At the other end of the spectrum, millennials — who are often characterized as frivolous spenders — held significantly lower credit card balances, at $4,889. They also carry fewer (3.2) of credit cards in their wallets. Generation X carry 4.3 credit cards and baby boomers have 4.8 credit cards, on average.

How does your state compare?

Using data from Experian, as well as data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax, you can compare average credit card balances by state.

Differences in credit card debt by generation

In 2019, Generation X had more credit card debt, on average, than baby boomers, as those in their mid-40s typically have the largest amount of expenses relative to both younger and older consumers.

Methodology

In February 2020, MagnifyMoney collected and analyzed credit card data from government and industry sources, including the American Bankers Association, Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, to determine average credit card balances, interest rates, usage and delinquency rates.

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.

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Featured, Personal Loans, Reviews

Marcus by Goldman Sachs Review: GS Bank Takes on Online Savings, CDs, and Personal Loans

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Marcus by Goldman Sachs savings account

A very high interest rate and no fees make this one of the best savings accounts out there.

APY

Minimum Balance Amount

1.30%

None

  • Minimum opening deposit: None. However, you’ll need to deposit at least $1.00 if you want to earn any interest
  • Monthly account maintenance fee: None
  • ATM fee: N/A
  • ATM fee refund: N/A
  • Overdraft fee: None

This is a great account for almost anyone. However, before you click that “Learn More” button below, there are a couple of things to know.

No ATMs. First, Marcus by Goldman Sachs doesn’t offer ATM access to your savings account. You’ll either need to deposit or withdraw money by sending in a physical check, setting up direct deposits, or by moving the money to and from your other bank accounts via ACH or wire transfer.

No checking account. Second, Marcus does’t offer a corresponding checking account. That means you can only use this account as an external place to park your cash from your everyday money flow.

Keeping a separate savings account does have its benefits. For example, it’s harder to tempt yourself to withdraw the cash if you’re a chronic over-spender. But, it also means that there might be a delay of a few days if you need to transfer the money out of your Goldman Sachs online savings account and into your other checking account.

How to open a Goldman Sachs online savings account

It’s really easy to open an online savings account with Marcus by Goldman Sachs. You can do it online or over the phone as long as you’re 18 years or older, have a physical street address, and a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

You’ll be required to sign a form which you can do online, or by mail if you’re opening the account over the phone.

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How their online savings account compares

Marcus’ online savings account can easily be described with one word: outstanding.

You’ll get a relatively high interest rate with this account, which is among the best online savings account rates you’ll find today. In fact, these rates are currently over seven times higher than the average savings account interest rate.

Even better, this account won’t charge you any fees for the privilege of keeping your money stashed there. It’s a tall order to find another bank that offers these high interest rates with terms this good.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs CD rates

Sky-high CD rates, but watch out for early withdrawal limitations.

Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

6 months

0.60%

$500

9 months

0.70%

$500

12 months

1.60%

$500

18 months

1.60%

$500

24 months

1.60%

$500

3 years

1.35%

$500

4 years

1.35%

$500

5 years

1.65%

$500

6 years

1.65%

$500

  • Minimum opening deposit: $500
  • Minimum balance amount to earn APY: $500
  • Early withdrawal penalty:
    • For CDs under 12 months, 90 days’ worth of interest
    • For CDs of 12 months to 5 years, 270 days’ worth of interest
    • For CDs of 5 years or over, 365 days’ worth of interest

Marcus’ CDs work a little differently from other CDs. Rather than having to set up and fund your account all at once, Goldman Sachs will give you 30 days to fully fund your account.

Once open, your interest will be tallied up and credited to your CD account each month. You can withdraw the interest earned at any time without paying an early withdrawal penalty, but heads up: If you withdraw the interest, your returns will be lower than the stated APY when you opened your account.

If you need to withdraw the money from your CD, you can only do so by pulling out the entire CD balance and paying the required early withdrawal penalty. There is no option for partial withdrawals of your cash.

Finally, once your CD has fully matured, you’ll have a 10-day grace period to withdraw the money, add more funds, and/or switch to a different CD term. If you don’t do anything, Marcus will automatically roll over your CD into another one of the same type, but with the current interest rate of the day.

How to open a Goldman Sachs CD

Marcus has made it super simple to open up a CD. First, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, and have either a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

You can open an account easily online, or call them up by phone. You’ll need to sign an account opening form, which you can do online or via a hard-copy mailed form. Then, simply fund your CD account within 30 days, and you’re all set.

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How their CDs compare

The interest rates that Marcus offers on their CDs are top-notch. In fact, a few of their CD terms are among the current contenders for the best CD rates.

If you’re interested in pursuing a CD ladder approach, Marcus is one of our top picks because each of their CD terms offer above-average rates. This means you can rest easy that you’ll get the best rates for your CD ladder without having to complicate things by spreading out all of your CDs among a handful of different banks.

The only downside to these CDs compared with many other banks is that you can’t withdraw a portion of your cash if you need it. It’s either all-in, or all-out. However, once out, you’re still free to open a new CD with the surplus cash, as long as it’s at least the $500 minimum deposit size.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs personal loan

Personal loans offered by Marcus have low APRs, flexible terms, and no fees.

Terms

APR

Credit Required

Fees

Max Loan Amount

36 to 72 months

6.99%-19.99%

Not specified

None

$40,000

Marcus by Goldman Sachs® personal loans can be used for just about anything, from consolidating debt to financing a large home improvement project. They offer some of the best rates available, with APRs as low as 6.99%, and you’ll not only be able to choose between a range of loan terms, but you can also choose the specific day of the month when you want to make your loan payments.

While there are no specific credit requirements to get a loan through Marcus, the company does try to target those that have “prime” credit, which is usually those with a FICO score higher than 660. Even with a less than excellent credit score, you may be able to qualify for a personal loan from Marcus, though, those that have recent, negative marks on their credit report, such as missed payments, will likely be rejected.

Applicants must be over 18 (19 in Alabama and Nebraska, 21 in Mississippi and Puerto Rico) and have a valid U.S. bank account. You are also required to have a Social Security or Individual Tax I.D. Number.

No fees. Marcus charges no extra fees for their personal loans. There is No origination fee associated with getting a loan, but there are also no late fees associated with missing payments. Those missed payments simply accrue more interest and your loan will be extended.

Defer payments. Once you have made on-time payments for a full year, you will have the ability to defer a payment. This means that if an unexpected expense or lost job hurts your budget one month, you can push that payment back by a month without negatively impacting your credit report.

How to apply for a Marcus personal loan

Marcus by Goldman Sachs offers a process that is completely online, allowing you to apply, choose the loan you want, submit all of your documents, and get approved without having to leave home. Here are the steps that you will complete to get a personal loan from Marcus:

  1. Fill out the information that is required in the online application, including your basic personal and financial information, as well as how much you would like to borrow and what you will use the money for.
  2. After a soft pull on your credit, and if you qualify, you will be presented a list of different loan options that may include different rates and terms.
  3. Once you have chosen the loan you want, you will need to provide additional information to verify your identity. You may also be asked for information that can be used to verify your income and you will need to provide your bank account information so that the money can be distributed.
  4. You will receive your funds 1 – 4 business days after your loan has been approved.

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How their personal loans compare

Marcus offers low APRs and flexible terms with their personal loans, but their main feature is that they have no fees. If you are looking for a straightforward lending experience with no hidden fees or costs, Marcus will be perfect for you since you won’t even have to worry about late fees if you happen to miss a payment.

While Marcus offers some great perks, you may be able to get a lower rate if you choose to go with another lender, such as LightStream or SoFi. Both of these lenders offer lower APR ranges and they don’t charge origination fees, though, LightStream will do a hard pull on your credit to preapprove you.

LendingClub and Peerform both have lower credit requirements than Marcus, but they also charge origination fees and, being P2P lending platforms, you will need to wait for your loan to be funded and you run the risk that other users might not fund your loan.

Overall review of Marcus by Goldman Sachs‘ products

Marcus has really hit it out of the park with their personal loans, online savings, and CD accounts. Each of these accounts offers some of the best features available on the market, while shrinking the fees down to a minuscule, or even nonexistent, amount. Their website is also slick and easy to use for online-savvy people.

The only thing we can find to complain about with Marcus is that they don’t offer an equally-awesome checking account to accompany their other deposit products. Indeed, it seems like Marcus has turned their former hoity-toity image around: Today, they’re a bank that we’d recommend to anyone, even blue-collar folks.

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.