Here's exactly what it takes to have an excellent credit score

Hanna Lassen/Getty ImagesAn excellent credit score starts with paying every bill on time.
  • An excellent credit score is anything above 800, according Fair Isaac Corp.’s FICO model.
  • According to a LendingTree analysis of people with credit scores of at least 801, those with excellent credit have an average of nine open accounts.
  • These borrowers also have a credit limit around $US71,000, a credit utilization rate under 6%, and no record of late or missed payments in the past four years.
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Credit scores are an essential part of adulthood.

The three-digit number is an indicator of your trustworthiness as a borrower. If you have a low credit score, or none at all, buying a house, renting an apartment, taking out a loan, or opening a new credit card won’t come easy.

A credit score can be negatively influenced by late or missed credit-card, cell phone, utility, or loan payments, and by using too much of your available credit. It may require careful planning and diligence to repair a bad credit score, but it’s not impossible.

The average FICO score among Americans reached an all-time high of 704 last spring. The FICO model categorizes credit scores as poor (300-579), fair (580-669), good (670-739), very good (740-799), and excellent (800-850).

While the average American is in good shape, a recent LendingTree analysis of more than 60,000 people with excellent credit scores (over 800) gives us a peek into the financial lives of above-average borrowers – and it’s clear how they got there.

Perhaps the most telling characteristic of people with excellent credit is this: They haven’t missed a single payment in four years of credit history analysed by LendingTree, and they pay on time, every time.

But that doesn’t mean they’re debt-free. In fact, there’s no way to build credit without borrowing money, since it requires proving you’re able to pay back a lender on time and in full. Those with excellent credit scores have an average of $US126,306 in outstanding mortgage debt, $US11,162 in auto-loan debt, $US4,261 in student loan debt, $US2,579 in personal loans, and $US392 in unspecified debt, according to LendingTree.

They’re also using far less of their available credit than the average American, with a credit utilization rate of 5.3% on an average credit limit of $US71,353 spread over nine accounts. Meanwhile, the average person living in a large US metro has between $US15,000 and $US25,000 in available credit, of which they use 24% to 35%, according to LendingTree.

Credit-reporting company Experian recommends keeping your credit-utilization rate under 30%, but the lower the better.

People with excellent credit also keep their credit inquiries to a minimum – just two in as many years, on average. When we apply for credit – whether it’s for a new credit card, a mortgage, or an auto loan – and a lender issues a credit check, it will appear on our credit report and may influence our credit score. This is referred to as a hard inquiry.

Too many hard inquiries may raise red flags for lenders,according to Experian, because they signal a high volume of new accounts in a short period of time, which “may mean you’re having trouble paying bills or are at risk of overspending.” Hard inquiries remain on a credit report for up to two years.

Across all age groups, the average person with excellent credit has more than 20 years of credit history. The longer a borrower has held onto an account in good standing, LendingTree explains, the more positive the impact on their credit score. Even millennials, the youngest generation included in LendingTree’s analysis, have an oldest active account of nearly 15 years.

Need help with your credit? Our partner Experian offers credit reporting and repair »

See your options for debt relief with our partner LendingTree »

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