BACK

Keeping Score

What credit score do you start with?

Credit scores range from 300 to 850, but if you're new to credit, you don't start at 300

Summary

If you’re hoping to open any new accounts or even rent an apartment, you should know where your credit stands. For those new to credit, here’s what that means for you.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

If you’re hoping to open any new credit accounts, take out a loan or even, in some cases, rent an apartment, knowing your credit score is important.

But if you don’t have any open credit, it can be difficult to know where you stand. You might think you start at the bottom and work your way up, but that’s not exactly how it works.

Both FICO and VantageScore scores range from 300 to 850. But no one starts at 300. If you don’t have anything for credit bureaus to track, you might be considered credit invisible – meaning you don’t have a score at all. People who fall in this category are generally brand new to credit because they’re young or new to this country. It can also mean people who haven’t used credit for more than 10 years.  Scoring algorithms need recent activity to base a score on. If that doesn’t exist, you’ll need to start afresh.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Steve a question.

If you’re currently credit invisible, it doesn’t take long to get a credit score – perhaps even a very good score. FICO can generate a score six months after at least one credit account is reported. VantageScore is able to do so almost as soon as the account is opened.

See related: What is a thin credit profile and how can you build it up?

Can I have a 300 credit score?

Even though you don’t start at 300, you can have a credit score that low if you don’t practice smart credit habits. People with multiple collection accounts, repossessions and bankruptcies on their credit reports could find themselves in this range.

How to get a good or excellent credit score

Credit scoring algorithms are complex and a trade secret. As a result, they sometimes seem to defy logic. Because of that, there is no fail-proof recipe for getting to a specific score. But there are some healthy credit habits that can help you get a strong credit score quickly, even if you’re credit invisible.

If you haven’t already, access some credit. After you have an open account for six months – and it’s been reported to credit bureaus – you’ll have enough data to get a credit score with both FICO and VantageScore. Perhaps surprisingly, it is possible for an individual with only six months of positive reported credit history to have a score in the 700s, despite having a short credit history. But payment history and credit utilization would need to be very strong. I would consider this to be a fragile score. Since it is based on very little data, any negative entries would have a large effect.

See related: Best cards for young adults

Pay your bills on time, every single time. Payment history is the No. 1 factor in the FICO model, making up a whopping 35% of your score. Paying your bills on time – and in full – also impacts your credit utilization, or how much of your available credit you have used at any given time. This is also very important as it counts for 30% of your FICO score. Know what your credit limit is and try to stay under 30% of that limit. The closer you can get to single digits in this category, the better it will be for your score.

Carefully consider your borrowing choices. Credit mix, or the types of accounts you have, makes up 10% of your FICO score and is an area that is often overlooked when it comes to beefing up your credit score. Once you have a credit card, you might consider a passbook loan or even an auto loan to help in this area. Just remember that new credit also counts for 10% of your score, so you don’t want to open a bunch of new accounts all at once.

Fifteen percent of your FICO score comes from your credit history, or how old your accounts are. This is the one area over which you have little control if you are just starting out. Your accounts can only be as old as they are. But this is a good reminder to not close any credit accounts unless you have a really good reason – especially if it’s your oldest account.

See Related: Best credit cards for good credit

Bottom line

I don’t recommend chasing scores, but 700 is not a bad goal to aim for. There are some newer products out there that could help you reach your goal a bit sooner, with the added advantage of not forcing you to take on new debt.

Experian Boost taps into your checking account to report good payment history on things like your cell phone and other utility bills. UltraFICO, currently in its pilot phase, is another product that utilizes your banking information to highlight your money management skills and help your score. These products will only affect your score with Experian, but for those new to credit it could prove the “boost” you need.

Remember to keep track of your score!

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

What’s up next?

In Keeping Score

Despite a difficult year, millennials and Gen Z feel in control of their credit

Whether your credit suffered or bloomed in the pandemic, here are a few ways you can help it grow in 2021.

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report
Business
14.22%
Airline
15.51%
Cash Back
16.03%
Reward
15.85%
Student
15.98%

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more