High achievers, start your engines: The road to an elite 800+ FICO score is long and arduous. Maintaining a high credit score requires scrupulous attention to detail over the long haul. Some 18.6 percent of consumers held a score of 800 or higher as of October 2013, reports FICO, the highest proportion of consumers since 18.7 percent in October 2008. The average FICO score (as of April 2014) languishes back at 692, according to FICO.
Just how important is a coveted 800+ score? A FICO score of 780 or higher is generally accepted as the finish line for the best interest rates and terms. A loan applicant who brings an 820 FICO score to the table won’t snag any better a deal than an applicant with a 780.
How to score 800+
Still determined to score big? Here’s what you need to do.
Know your score. An astounding 42 percent of respondents in a 2013 survey conducted by the American Bankers Association had no idea what their credit scores were. Even among those who knew a number, there was confusion over where that number came from and what it meant. All credit scores are not created equal; the FICO score is the industry standard. Get your free annual report every year.
Don’t close down old accounts. The length of your credit history influences 15 percent of your score. The older your accounts, the more points you earn. So don’t close inactive accounts in hopes of streamlining your credit report. Longevity is worth points.
Retune your credit card utilization. You may have heard formulas calling for 30 percent utilization (that is, actively using about 30 percent of your available credit) on your credit cards; some sources peg that number at 10 percent. Those can be smart benchmarks. The elite choice? Zero percent utilization. Pay off credit card debt every single month to demonstrate mastery of your budget and personal finances.
Diversify the types of debt you hold. Showing smart management of both revolving accounts (credit cards) and installment accounts (personal loans) can boost your credit score as much as 10 percent.
Live within your means. Conquering the debt habit is one thing; living that way for once and for all is another. Don’t get caught letting credit cards creep upward—a splurge here, a car repair there. Create a budget and stick to it.
Limit your responsibility for other people’s debt. Cosigning for loans—even something as important as a student loan—can put your credit rating at risk if the other person has trouble paying it off.
Get rid of bad debt. One thing you won’t find on the credit report of someone with an 800+ FICO score is bad debt or charge-offs. That’s one reason it’s so important to review your credit report and verify that everything on it is accurate. If you do have bad debt or charge-offs on your report, you’ll need a little tincture of time—seven years, to be exact—before those dings may slide off the bottom of your record.
And of course, pay your bills on time. The most important and reliable way to keep your credit score climbing is to build an immaculate payment history, which counts for more than a third of your score. Don’t let payments slip through the cracks by even one day. Stay on track with the help of payment reminders such as an app that nudges you when a payment is coming due.
Remember, if your FICO score is already 780 or above, there’s really not much benefit to worrying about increasing it further. The key at that point is to maintain timely payments and keep a leash on debt.