Some people obsess over perfect grades. Others find fulfillment in bowling a perfect 300. Still others make it their life goal to earn the highly elusive perfect credit score. But while getting A’s on all your midterms and even bowling 300s are fairly attainable goals, perfection in the credit world is practically unheard of. Can it really be done? And more importantly, is it a worthy goal to strive toward? Here’s why the perfect credit score may not really matter in the end.
Is it possible?
Yes, it’s possible to get a perfect credit score. However, this answer comes with a few caveats. First off, the “yes” assumes you’re thinking about the 850 FICO score. While the FICO score is the most common score lenders use to determine your creditworthiness, it’s not your only score. There are dozens of scoring models that can be used to determine your score, and each model calculates your score differently. So even if you achieve a perfect score with one model, your other scores may be very different.
Secondly, even if someone is able to achieve a perfect score, there’s no guarantee that it will stay that number or he or she will be able to reach it again. Credit scores change constantly, and every time someone pulls your score, it’s calculated anew.
Credit scores are also notoriously mysterious. While most people know they should pay their bills on time and avoid unnecessary hard inquiries, there is no “magic formula” out there that consumers can follow to earn a perfect score. So even the most credit-savvy consumers may not be able to repeat their success or pinpoint what exactly got them to the top.
Lastly, a perfect score is extremely rare and almost impossible to attain. In 2010, the Fair Isaac Corporation, the creator of FICO scores, estimated that only about 0.5 percent of consumers are able to reach the 850 mark. In fact, it’s so uncommon that when people do achieve it, they sometimes get into the news.
Is it worth it?
Greatness is always a good goal to strive toward. However, is it worth spending ridiculous amounts of time and money stressing over a perfect credit score? In most cases, no. While it doesn’t hurt to desire and try to obtain an excellent score, you don't need a perfect score to get the best rates as a consumer. As FICO spokesman Anthony Sprauve told Forbes last year, “It’s important to understand that if you have a FICO score above 760, you’re going to be getting the best rates and opportunities.” In other words, lenders aren't looking for a perfect credit score – they’re simply looking for a score that indicates you’re a responsible borrower. Most people want the 850 just so they can say they’re at the top.
How can I improve my credit health?
As the inspirational quote “shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars” encourages, it never hurts to aim high, especially when you’re dealing with something as important as your credit. So whether you’re looking to achieve that elusive 850 or just want to improve your credit health, here are a few simple tips to start:
- Dispute errors. Since you’ll want your score to be an accurate representation of your credit history and creditworthiness, you’ll need to make sure the credit reports your scores are based on are error-free. To do this, pull your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com each year, scrutinize them for errors and dispute any inaccuracies you see. A 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that 25 percent of credit reports could contain errors that impact scores, so don’t just assume your credit reports are always accurate – it could end up costing you.
- Don’t utilize too much credit. Whenever possible, it’s best to not rack up too much debt on your cards. Instead, try only using 1 to 20 percent of your total credit limits. This shows lenders that you’re responsibly using your cards, but you’re not dependent on them or desperate for credit.
- Monitor your score. It’s hard to improve your score without knowing what it is and what’s affecting it. The good news is that monitoring your credit doesn’t have to cost you money. Free credit monitoring services allow you to easily track your score over time and see the fluctuations that could signal significant changes in your credit health.
- Pay your bills on time and in full. Having a perfect on-time payment percentage is one of the best things you can do for your credit, as just one late payment can wreak havoc on your score for years. Paying your bills in full won’t necessarily improve your credit health. However, this habit can save you a lot of money on interest that you can use to pay off other things.
- Limit hard inquiries. While they won’t kill your score, hard inquiries can slightly lower your score, so apply for new accounts with caution. Keep in mind that applying for a credit card isn’t the only way to receive a hard inquiry – even renting a car, getting a TV or high-speed Internet account, or opening a checking account may incur a credit inquiry.
- Be patient. Good credit takes time to build. Whether you’re waiting for those derogatory marks to fall off your report or simply waiting for your average age of accounts to rise, there’s unfortunately nothing you can do to speed up time.
The bottom line: While a perfect credit score is attainable, it’s extremely rare and isn’t worth stressing over. Like money, you can’t take your credit score with you when you pass away, so focus instead on improving your credit health, getting your score into the optimal range and enjoying the fruits of your time and effort. Good luck!
Jenna Lee is the social media manager for CreditKarma.com, a free credit monitoring website that helps more than 22 million people access their credit score for free.