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Keeping Score

What is a fair credit score?

FICO says it's in the 580-669 range, but a "fair" credit score can also be measured in terms of your age, location and the state of the economy

Summary

According to FICO, a “fair” credit score is in the 580-669 range. A score in that range may qualify you for a credit card or a loan, but you’ll likely be subject to a high interest rate. And you may not be eligible for credit cards with the best rewards or promotional APRs.

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The difference of a few points in your credit score can result in either huge savings or huge interest charges.

Both of these translate directly into the very quality of life you will experience throughout your and your family’s lifetime.

Sometimes I think America should add a third qualifier to the land of the free and home of the brave – maybe the land of the fair also! No place is this spirit of fairness more prominent than in the credit industry. Over the last few years we have had the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and so on.

However, the question of fairness can have two different meanings:

  1. Are credit scores fair?
  2. What number is a fair (as opposed to excellent, good or poor) credit score?

For the purposes of this column, let’s focus on question No. 2.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

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What is a ‘fair’ credit score?

According to FICO, a “fair” credit score is in the 580-669 range. A score in that range may qualify you for a credit card or a loan, but you’ll likely be subject to a high interest rate. And you may not be eligible for credit cards with the best rewards, perks or promotional APRs.

I should note that credit standards swing like a pendulum. In a loose credit environment, lending criteria relax and a score in the low 600s might not be a barrier to getting a loan.

Just before the 2008 mortgage crash, there were big programs designed to lend to those considered subprime. After the mortgage crash, credit tightened and the score needed to get into a mortgage rose considerably.

See related: What credit score is needed to buy a house?

Credit Score Ranges

Lenders define “good credit” differently, so you sometimes can’t know until you apply whether you’ll be approved for a credit product or get the best rate. However, you can get a good general idea of your credit from your credit score. The two biggest creators of credit score are FICO and VantageScore. Here’s how they break it down.
FICOVantageScore
Credit ratingScore rangeCredit ratingScore range
Exceptional800-850Excellent750-850
Very good740-799Good700-749
Good670-739Fair650-699
Fair580-669Poor550-649
Very poor300-579Very poor300-549

Economy shifts could redefine what a ‘fair’ credit score is

Changes in the economy equate to changes in what score level is needed to get a certain interest rate, or even a loan at any price. As I am writing this column, one of these swings may be happening. The impact of the coronavirus on the financial markets, the job market and the lending markets have yet to be understood, much less factored into credit.

So, the best way to answer the question of what is a fair score is to give you a sense of where your score falls by population percentage, age and even where you call home, with the expectation that as the criteria tighten and loosen, a fair score will rise or fall accordingly.

In 2019 Experian looked at credit scores by state and found that Mississippi melted to come in last at 667, while Minnesota’s scores drifted with their snow to a frosty and lofty 733. For the guys in my Wednesday morning breakfast group, our own Rhode Island tipped the scales at 713. So, what may be a fair score to a lender in Mississippi won’t fare quite as well in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Experian found that the average credit score for millennials was 668, compared to 703 for the overall population. And the average age at which a consumer’s credit score reached 700 was 54.

See related: 10 tips to improve your credit score

Final thoughts

Let’s talk about what I call “good enough” credit. My last word of advice on a fair credit score is that you not get hung up chasing a number for the sake of the number alone. Fair credit is fine as long as it gets you what you need at a price you can afford.

Of course, I’d prefer to see you at the good or above level, but sometimes life has other plans for you. So, if fair credit is good enough for what you want to do, it’s good enough for me.

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.

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: October 14th, 2020
Business
13.91%
Airline
15.50%
Cash Back
15.85%
Reward
15.75%
Student
16.12%

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