The Average Credit Score in America – And What You Can Learn From It

The Average Credit Score in America – And What You Can Learn From It

In America, the average credit score has gone up a few points, teetering at the edge of 700, according to the latest FICO data. This respectable score is up five points in 2015. While this could the result of a change to the FICO scoring method, it nonetheless offers a chance to review what credit really is, and why taking on debt can help you save money.

Today, while 43% of Americans have a delinquency affecting their credit score, for most of them, that delinquency is 17 months old. What’s more, the average American has used up to 15% of their available credit on things like credit cards, and they have a full six open revolving credit accounts all of which have outstanding balances. Why?

Understanding Credit

As the name suggests, credit is a form of paying it forward. Credit gives you money based on how likely you are to repay that money. For each line of credit you receive, whether it is a loan or a credit card, the interest rate you pay is based on how likely that repayment will be.

Treated as a business, the industry of credit is one that traps people in a race against time. Someone who might, for example, have the earnings to repay a car loan early and have the debt off their shoulders is treated to an early repayment fee. Early repayment fees are a way for companies lending funds to ensure they are still profiting from the loan. This is even if you are timely in your payments. Monthly bills when paid on time for things like a credit card do not acquire any interest. However, when they’re paid even one day late, they’re charged incredibly high fees. Things like mortgage loans have lower interest rates, but because the loaned amount is higher, the total accumulated each month. These loan amounts adds up quickly.

How You Get Scored

The unfortunate thing for many is that without a good credit score, getting reasonable rates for things like a home mortgage or other loans will be quite high. Starting off without any credit history means that in order to earn a good credit score, you have to take on debt, and then slowly, painfully, repay that debt.

Having the funds up front to pay for a lower end car in full earns you next to no credit, which means it does not help your credit score to rise, rather, keeps it steady, unchanging. As such, taking on a line of credit, even if you do not need it, is the only way to earn a higher score. Each month that a debt or line of credit is repaid, it gives you the chance to show that you can be trusted to repay a debt. The more months you repay on time, and the more things you repay each month, the more companies can rely upon you to give them the profits they are seeking with loans and lines of credit.

Increasing Your Score

So, if you have checked out your score for the first time, you might see that without any debt, without any credit checks, and without any credit cards in your name, your score is lower than the national average. In order to bring it up, you have to apply for and secure a debt against you, then slowly repay that debt.

When buying a new car, one way to do that is to pay a large enough down payment that your overall interest rate can be lowered in spite of an average or below average score, then make monthly payments on the rest. Both things work in your credit score’s favor.

Why Improve?

In the case of a credit score, you should not settle for a “fair” report, or whatever figure you have. Reason being, better credit scores save you money long term. Consider that you want to buy a house. If you are getting a thirty year fixed rate mortgage at a rate of $250,000, your credit score translates into direct savings. Consider the charge below:

FICO ScoreAPR (%)Total Interest ($)Difference vs. Top Tier


Illustrated here, the higher your credit, the more money you save in total interest.

What to take away

What’s important to understand is that you are not alone. No matter what fiscal issue is keeping your score down, even the top score holders have the same issue. In fact, the average “high achiever”, those with a score over 800, have nine open revolving lines of credit. This is three more than average. Given the aforementioned credit information, it makes sense that higher score earners are using more lines of credit and debt to their name. This allows them to make more payments on time, thus cementing the notion that they are “good for the money”.

Most people do not realize that 30% of the FICO score is taken from amounts owed on credit lines. As such, the higher achievers often use just 4% of their available credit. On the other hand, compare this to the 15% for average score holders. While 43% of Americans have a delinquency on their report, 5% of higher achievers do too. Average Americans have 100% of their accounts with an outstanding balance, while higher achievers have but 70%.

Overall, the same fiscal issues are faced by all. The difference is in their impact or severity. Paying bills on time, not using all of the credit you have available to you. In conclusion, not letting accounts get sent to collections all work in tandem will improve your score.


5 Riveting Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Credit Scores

5 Riveting Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Credit Scores

Credit scores are a significant part of adult life. A person’s credit score can greatly affect how easy or expensive it is to buy a house, finance a car, apply for a credit card, or rent an apartment. Good credit makes all of those things a lot easier. And yet, there are many aspects of credit scores that many people don’t know but would be useful to ensuring that you have a good credit score.

1. Millions of people don’t have a credit score

Don’t be one of them. By default, you don’t have a credit score if you don’t use credit. It’s very important to build your credit history and use credit cards (responsibly) as opposed to cash or debit cards all of the time. In order to have a FICO credit score (the most common credit scoring system), you need to achieve these attributes:

  • At least one account opened for more than 6 months
  • At least one account that’s been reported to the credit bureaus within the past 6 months
  • Have no indication of being deceased on the credit report (this is rare, but mistakes can and sometimes do happen)

2. You have more than one credit score

There isn’t a single source of truth when it comes to credit scores. In fact, there are 3 major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each of these bureaus maintains their own score for every consumer that it knows about (so again, you need to have used credit to get on their radar). Therefore, you will have 3 different credit scores, each of which will most likely be slightly different from the other 2. Some lenders look at just 1 score, while others look at 2 or 3 of these scores. Because of this, it may be worth spending the money to know what your score is from all 3 of these credit bureaus. Mortgage lenders will look at all 3 scores and take the middle score to figure out whether you qualify for a loan with what percentage interest.

3. Not using your credit can lower your credit score

Just because you have credit cards open doesn’t mean that you can just stop there. It’s important to keep your credit usage active so that you have a history of making payments on time. This might seem slightly counterintuitive because generally, the lower your credit utilization, the better your credit score. Yet, a 0% credit utilization does not help and may even hurt your credit score. The sweet spot is getting to a very small, but non-zero, utilization rate. It helps to keep even a small credit card balance on one or more cards.

4. Bad credit can be fixed

If you feel your credit score is lower than you want it to be, don’t fret. There are many things you can do to improve your credit score. Negative information is typically dropped from your credit report completely after 7 years, and the impact of those negative marks will have less of an effect on your credit score over time as you generate more recent history of on-time payments. There are some exceptions. Bankruptcies will stay on your credit report for 10 years, and unpaid tax liens will stay on your credit report for 15 years.

For more tips on how to repair your credit, view our 2017 Guide to Credit Repair.

5. Checking your credit doesn’t impact your score

You’ve probably heard that credit inquiries hurt your score, so why are we saying it doesn’t impact your score? There’s actually a difference in types of inquiries. There are “hard” inquiries, which occur when you apply for new credit such as a loan or a credit card. These can impact your score, so it’s best not to, for example, open up too many new credit card accounts at once. Then, there are “soft” inquiries, which occur when you check your own credit or even when a credit card company wants to pre-screen you for a credit card offer. You’re also entitled to a free credit report every year, so not only does it not impact your score, it can be free too!