The Most Googled Credit Score Questions, Answered by Finance Experts

published Apr 14, 2019
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No doubt, credit can be confusing. Not only are there various factors that make up the anatomy of your credit score, there are also different credit scoring companies. Making things even more convoluted, achievements like paying off your student loans can actually cause a drop in your scores, plus there’s plenty of myths circulating about credit.

Suffice to say, people have a lot of questions about credit. The best way to find out what consumers want to know most about credit is to do a modern-day anthropological study: Check out their collective browser history! (OK, that sounds creepy in a surveillance kind of way, but really we just looked at the most Googled credit questions).

We asked finance and credit experts to answer the eight most common credit questions that Google fields. Here’s what they have to say:

Q: What is a credit score?

A credit score is a three-digit number that indicates your reliability (or, on the contrary, your risk) as a borrower, explains Oliver Browne, credit industry analyst with Credit Card Insider, a credit card comparison and education site. Also, you don’t just have one credit score because there are several credit score brands, with the most well-known being FICO. VantageScore was developed by three popular credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Think of it this way, your credit score is basically your financial GPA, says Lauren Anastasio, a financial advisor at SoFi, a personal finance company. “In school, your GPA represents the average of the grades you earned from all your classes while your credit score is basically an average score based on your borrowing behaviors,” she says.

Q: Why is credit important?

A wide range of organizations use your credit to determine how reliable you are when it comes to paying money back and meeting your obligations, Browne says. Lenders will use your credit history to decide if they want to deal with you and on what terms. “Higher credit scores will mean you are more likely to be approved for credit cards and loans, as well as receive better terms such as lower interest rates,” Browne says. Beyond credit cards and loans, though, your credit can be instrumental in renting an apartment or setting up utilities. Additionally, your employer can request to see your credit report (not your score) if you’re up for certain jobs or promotions where you handle sensitive information, he explains. (Here are eight surprising reasons you need a good credit score).

Q: Is a credit score of 650 good or bad?

A 650 credit score is average credit. “I would equate a 650 credit score to a letter grade of ‘C,'” says Priyanka Prakash, a credit expert with Fundera, a small business financial solutions marketplace. “It’s not great, but it’s a passing score.” You will be able to qualify for many credit cards and loans with a 650 credit score, but you won’t get the lowest interest rates, she says.

Q: Can I check my credit score for free?

Yes, there are several ways to check your credit score for free, says Matt Frankel, Certified Financial Planner at The Ascent. However, it’s important to mention that not all credit scores are the same. “The FICO credit score is used by more than 90 percent of lenders, so that’s the one you want to see,” he says. Some credit card issuers and other lenders offer their customers a free FICO score. There are also free credit-monitoring sites, but experts say the data you see on those sites may inflate your score some. Also, you’re entitled to view your credit report once a year on—but that report doesn’t include your credit score itself. These are the best free credit score sites, according to experts.

Q: Is 850 credit score possible?

Yes, but it’s a unicorn in the credit world. Only about 1.5 percent of Americans have an 850 credit score, explains Prakash. Also, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. “The truth is that there isn’t much difference between a 800 and 850 credit score in terms of the benefits you’ll get, so there’s no need to aim for perfection,” Prakash says.

Achieving an 850 credit score typically requires someone to have a long credit history of timely payments, high credit limits, low balances, and diverse types of credit, such as installment loans and revolving credit lines, says Joseph Allen, a senior mortgage lending officer at Quontic Bank in New York City.

You also can’t have blemishes on your credit, like collections or bankruptcies, if you want to ascend into 850 credit club, Prakash says.

Q: How do I improve my credit score?

First and foremost, pay your credit card bills on time every month, Browne suggests. Your payment history makes up 35 percent of your FICO credit scores, so it’s a good idea to set up automatic payments or payment reminders so you never miss a payment. Also, try to keep your credit card balances as low as possible, he recommends. The amount you owe makes up 30 percent of your FICO score, and high balances will negatively affect your credit scores.

Q: What is a bad credit score?

A poor credit score ranges from 300-579, says Jacqueline Devereux, a credit and financial expert with personal finance site SproutCents. “You may not be able to get approved for unsecured credit cards and you will have the highest interest rates,” she says.

Q: What is a good credit score to buy a house?

Ideally a prospective home buyer wants to have a minimum FICO score of 740 or higher, explains Robert Tait, a mortgage loan officer with Motto Mortgage Elite Services in Pennsylvania. Simply put, this is how you’ll get the best interest rate. Mortgage interest rates are impacted within sets of 20 points. As an example, a median FICO score of 739 will have the same adjustments that impact the interest rate as a 721 median FICO score, so that extra one point is important.

In general, most mortgage lenders want to see a credit score of 680 or above. Those with credit scores below that threshold may still qualify, but the loan will likely be more expensive and with additional contingencies.

Tait suggests planning ahead by having a lender pull your score and take care of anything that is pulling your scores down so you can get your scores as high as possible before you begin shopping for a home.

What other credit-related questions have you turned to Google to for answers?