Q: Dear CreditCardGuru, I thought the credit score range only went up to 850 but when I checked mine on Experian, it said I have a 857?! Now I’m totally confused. What is the highest credit score you can get?
A: You are correct in that the highest credit score possible is 850 for FICO and the newest version of the Vantage Score. However, an older version of the VantageScore goes all the way up to 990. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Fair Isaac Corporation developed the FICO score nearly 25 years ago (1987 to be exact). Since that time, it has definitely been the gold standard for credit scoring, as it is the score most commonly used by lenders.
When you check your score, make sure it’s the real deal. As of April 2014, there are only TWO websites where you can buy real FICO scores and those are Equifax and MyFICO. All the other websites sell knockoffs because they don’t have a license for using the FICO formula.
You have three FICO scores (one from each credit bureau), and each costs you $20 every time you check. Rather than pay, you can actually get free access to your TransUnion FICO score if you have a card from Discover, or from Barclaycard:Most websites also get the average wrong, too. A FICO score can range from 300 to 850. There is a lot of misinformation out there as to what the average score is (many sources cite numbers in the 670’s). While that may be technically correct, those with ultra-low scores are dragging down the average (mean) big time. To get a better idea of what the average person has, you should be looking at the median instead – the number which is exactly in the middle (50 percent are lower and 50 percent are higher).
So what’s the median credit score? Well for years, FICO reported it as being 723. However in 2010 they decided this statistic was now “proprietary information” and stopped publicly releasing it. That said, it’s probably safe to assume the median still hovers around 723.
Being that Fair Isaac was making money hand over fist with their FICO, it comes as no surprise that others wanted a piece of the action. The three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – launched the VantageScore in 2006 to compete with FICO.
Comparing the VantageScore vs FICO score
So what is the highest credit score you can have on VantageScore? It used to be 990, and the lowest used to be 501. The range changed last year and is now 300 to 850, just like FICO.
Use this chart from the VantageScore website to compare the old and new scoring systems:
The exact algorithms used for both FICO and VantageScore are secret, so beyond an educated guess, no one can say with 100 percent certainty how they are calculated. However some of the components that go into the scoring formula are made public and I’ve created this table so you can compare them side-by-side:
As you see the VantageScore formula uses six components, versus the FICO formula which consists of five. What you need to keep in mind though is that each major component consists of several sub-components (of which the percentages for each aren’t publicly available). So actually the two formulas are more similar than they may appear at first glance. Let me give you an example:
According to FICO’s website, the “Amount Owed” category consists of:
- Number of accounts with balances
- Amount owed on accounts
- Amount owed on specific account types
- Proportion of credit lines used
- Proportion of installment debt which is owed
- Lack of a specific type of balance, in some cases
Those six sub-components, when combined, equal 30 percent of your credit score.
On the other hand, VantageScore doesn’t have an “Amounts Owed” category but judging from their category names, one can make an educated guess that they still look at those six sub-components. The difference is that it appears they aren’t all grouped under the same mother category.
Are they apples to apples?
Unfortunately there’s no formula that will enable you to convert your VantageScore to your FICO and vice versa.
Still, either one will allow you to monitor your credit health and track your credit-improvement process. Just check your FICO scores before applying for any major loan, because those are what lenders are most likely to be checking. For all its good intentions, the VantageScore hasn’t become widely used in the lending business.
The Bottom Line?
Of course we all want the best, but the highest possible credit score — the 850 FICO — is almost unattainable. In fact, there are many loan officers that have been in the business for years who have said they’ve never seen a perfect 850 credit score before. Furthermore, a credit score in the high-700′s will usually get you the best rates anyway. Ultimately, instead of focusing on reaching the highest credit score possible, concentrate your efforts on having:
- A good mix of credit (revolving accounts like credit cards as well as installment accounts, like mortgages, student loans or car loans)
- Keep your credit utilization on revolving accounts low (no more than 30 percent of your limit, but ideally, under 10%)
- The older the accounts, the better! If you have an old credit card you hate, don’t cancel it. Keep it open and use it occasionally since that account may be helpful for your score given its age. However if the card has an annual fee and you’re not using it, then usually it does make sense to cancel.
How I reached an 800 FICO by my mid-20s
I was able to achieve a very high score quite early. By my 21st birthday I was already in the mid-700′s and a few years later I hit the 800 mark.
What’s my secret? Credit cards and a lot of them! In fact up until age 26 (when I got my first loan) card accounts were the only thing on my report.
When managed responsibly, credit cards can be a powerful tool for increasing your score. My advice would be to have several different cards. Don’t worry, you don’t have to use all of them at once! Just use a couple at a time and rotate them every three to four months. Rinse and repeat. That’s what I’ve been doing and it has obviously worked great!
My advice would be for you to choose cards that have no annual fee. That way you won’t mind keeping them open for the long term (and doing that will increase the average age of your accounts).
Last updated April 1, 2014