The Average Credit Score in America: Where Do You Stand?

Most people know the importance of having good credit. With low or no credit, your opportunities to take out a loan are severely limited. Even if you are able to get a loan, you will end up paying a higher interest rate than those with good or excellent credit. What most people don't know, however, is their actual credit score. This number is what lenders will look at when determining the structure of your loan. Have you ever wondered what the average credit score in America is?

Your FICO Credit Score

FICO, which was once named Fair Isaac Corporation, is the corporation that compiles and computes your credit score. You can start building your credit when you turn 18, and it will stick with you for your entire life. Those without a credit history are said to have no credit history (instead of a score of zero); the lowest score you can have is 300, and the upper limit is 850.

  • Bad Credit: 300 – 600
  • Poor Credit: 600 – 649
  • Fair Credit: 650 – 699
  • Good Credit: 700 – 749
  • Excellent Credit: 750 – 850

Keep in mind this is with the FICO scoring model. There are other credit companies that have different ranges.

Where do Most American's Land on the Scale?

Considering that if you took all the credit card debt in the U.S. and spread it out among all the households, each household would be over $15,000 in debt, it is tempting to think that most American's have terrible credit.

However, being in debt doesn't mean that you have bad credit. In fact, it likely means the opposite. You have a good enough credit score to have the debt, and as long as you are actively paying it off (not missing payments, not making payments late), then your score will remain high (and keep growing).

The average credit score in America falls just shy of the "Good" credit cutoff. According to FICO, the average score as of April 2015 is 695. This represents a high point for the past 10 years, and the scores have been climbing for the past two years.

The FICO site also says that 19.9 percent of Americans have a score over 800 and 34.8 percent have a score between 700 and 799. All in all, 54.7 percent of Americans fall into the "Good" or "Excellent" categories, while 21.9 percent are under 600 in the "Bad" category.

What Does a Good Credit Score Mean?

As mentioned previously, a good credit score can help you a lot with your financial health. But how exactly does it help? MyLendingTree's Free Credit Score can help you visualize the effects of having various levels of credit.

Let's suppose you want to buy a new car. You find one for $20,000 and choose a four-year loan period. When the financing department of the dealership runs the numbers, they discover you have a credit score of 615. You're not in the "Bad" category, but still a long ways from "Fair." That loan will cost you 13.55 percent interest, and over the next four years you pay a total of $6,017 in interest.

Now suppose you want to buy that same car, same loan term, but your credit score is right on track with the national average of 695. Because you have those extra 80 points, your interest rate is 4.547 percent, and over the next four years you pay $1,912 in interest.

Taking care of your credit score saves you over $4,000.

Why Does a Lower Credit Score Mean You Pay More?

Charging a higher interest rate for those with a low credit score seems punitive. On the surface, it looks like those who have a low score would be less likely to afford the loan, and ultimately less likely to build their credit score. But we have to remember: low credit doesn't mean bad with money.

There are a lot of people out there with incomes into the six figures that have bad credit. The reason is not that they don't make enough money or that they aren't saving enough. The reason is that they have made bad choices with their debt.

A low credit score shows the lender that you are more likely to default on your loan.

Because you are more likely to default on your loan, the lender must charge more to make it worth their time. As your score improves and you represent less risk, you are rewarded with a lower interest rate.

How to Raise your Credit Score

The best part about your credit score is the fact that you have the ability to change it. There are a few things that are calculated into your score that you can manipulate, and some that you can't.

  • Time – How long have you been using credit? This is a big part of your score, and you don't get to control it.
  • Credit Limit – If you have a limit of $1000 on your card, and you charge $999 every month, you are using 99.9 percent of your available credit. You want to use 30 to 40 percent or less.
  • Pay on Time– As long you aren't late on your payments, your score will continue to improve.

If you charge less than you are able and make timely payments, your score will tick up over time. It really is that simple.

How Does Your Credit Score Compare to the Average American?

The average American doesn't even reach the "Good" level for their credit score. If you find that you are falling under the average, you don't need to worry. In about 12 month's time, you should be able to significantly improve your credit score if you are responsible with your credit. If you are planning to take out a car loan, then you could raise your score during those 12 months, save up for a larger down payment, and in the end get the car you want, pay less in interest, and have it paid off sooner.

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