Over the past few weeks, my Facebook news feed has been full of advertisements by a popular Lamborghini-driving entrepreneur offering a “credit mentor” program.
The course promises to help you get a good credit score, tons of reward points, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit lines – all for one quick and easy payment of $697.
Does the product justify its price tag? Yes and no. (Okay, mostly no.)
In this article, we’ll look at what credit score is considered “good,” how much a 750+ score is worth you financially, and how you can improve your score without spending hundreds of dollars on costly programs.
What is a good credit score?
FICO is the credit scoring model most commonly used by lenders. Scores range between 300 and 850. In July 2017, the average FICO score reached 700 for the first time in history.
Only 1% of Americans have the highest possible credit score. Fortunately, you don’t need to have a perfect score to enjoy the benefits of good credit.
Any score above 750 will generally qualify you for the lowest interest rates and access to the best credit cards. Once you get to that top level of creditworthiness, there’s no difference in benefits from having an 825 score versus an 800.
How much is a good credit score worth?
Having a credit score in the good/great/excellent range can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to you over the long run.
The primary financial benefit of a 750+ credit score is the ability to qualify for the lowest interest rates on your mortgage or other loans.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the average mortgage application was for approximately $310,000 with an average interest rate of 4.1% (data from January 2017). Based on those numbers, the average home buyer was paying $539,000 over the life of their mortgage.
Your credit score is a primary factor in determining the interest rate on your loan. Let’s look at how much money you may save (or “lose”) by having a better or worse credit score than the average:
In our hypothetical situation above, the difference between having a high credit score and low credit score could cost you over $50,000 over the life of your mortgage!
While qualifying for the best interest rates is the most important part of having great credit, there are other benefits of having a good score:
- Access to the best credit card perks: Enjoy hundreds of dollars in free flights or cash back (but don’t forget, use your cards responsibly!)
- Better chances of a loan approval: With a better-than-average credit score, you can get approved for your loan without needing to find a co-signer or offering collateral (called a secured loan)
- Skip the security deposit: Some utility companies and cell phone service providers are requiring a security deposit if you have a history of not paying your bills
What would you pay for a good credit rating?
While a good credit score can be worth thousands of dollars, that doesn’t mean spending hundreds of dollars on a “credit mentor program” (or any similar products) should be considered a good return on investment.
You don’t need to pay any money whatsoever to improve your credit score – all of the information you need is freely accessible.
The only “payment” required for improving your credit score is making your loan and debt payments each month… Other than that, the only investment you need to make is a little of your time learning about how credit scores work and developing the right financial habits to hit your credit score goals.
How is your score calculated?
Your credit score is made up of five major factors. Here they are (ranked by importance):
- Payment history (35% of score)
- Credit utilization (30%)
- Length of credit history (15%)
- Types of credit (10%)
- Recent credit inquiries (10%)
Here are a few questions to help you understand the purpose behind each category:
Payment history: Do you pay your credit bill on time? Do you make at least the minimum payment each time a payment is due?
Credit utilization: Are you carrying a balance? What percentage of your total available credit limits are you using?
Length of credit history: When did you first open a line of credit (credit card, student loan, auto loan, etc.)? On average, how long have you had your open credit cards?
Types of credit: How many different forms of credit do you have? Outside of credit cards, what other types of loans do you have?
Recent credit inquiries: When did you last apply for a new credit card, auto loan, mortgage, etc.?
How to get better credit
If you want to improve your credit score, all you really need to do is follow the basic maxim of credit cards: Pay your balances in full each month.
This simple rule guarantees that you score well on the two main factors: payment history and credit utilization. The remaining credit score factors generally take care of themselves over time.
You may not be in a situation to pay your credit card balances off right away. If that’s the case, then your major takeaways should be to:
- Never miss a payment
- Pay down as much of your debt as possible
Missing a payment will ding your score for several years. The easiest way to keep yourself from missing a payment is to set up automatic or recurring payments that occur immediately after receiving your paycheck.
If you’re already carrying credit card balances, you should make an effort to pay more than the minimum payment whenever possible. The financial benefits of having a great credit score are quickly canceled out if you’re paying hundreds of dollars in interest charges each month!
Your credit score will play a role in many of your largest financial decisions, such as buying a new house or renting an apartment.
While having a good credit score can save you thousands of dollars, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to learn how to improve your score.
You can enjoy all of the benefits of a good credit score for free by simply following the basics: make your monthly payments and pay down your balances as close to zero as possible.
How much is a good credit score worth to you?