What Is a Good Credit Score?

Perhaps the most common question I hear when it comes to credit is, “What is a good credit score?”

Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a loaded question, because the numerical value tied to your credit history is a bit shortsighted, if not semi-useless.  Yeah, I said it.  Credit scores are somewhat useless, at least numerically speaking.

Sure, there are credit scoring tiers, or thresholds, which certain banks and lenders require for approval of a loan or a credit card, but they’re flawed.

On the surface, 720 may be considered a “good credit score.”  It’s relatively high in the Fico score range, but what’s behind that seemingly good credit score?

A Good Credit Score with No Credit History

Here’s where things get more complicated; a consumer with very little credit history may have an excellent credit score because they tend to have squeaky clean records, no lates, no charge-offs, no derogatory accounts, and no outstanding balances.

Unfortunately, these same consumers may not have much in the way of positive credit history either, so their seemingly good credit scores don’t carry much weight.  Sure, they may have never been late, and they may not have any credit card debt, but they also haven’t proven that they can carry heavy debt loads and subsequently pay those debts off.

Conversely, a consumer with what may be known as an average credit score, say 680, could have a much deeper credit history, with loads of tradelines and years of solid payment history.  At the same time, they could have something holding them back, like too much outstanding debt or too many recent credit inquiries.

This is where credit scoring gets put to the test, because the three-digit number alone may not tell the whole story.  And creditors should know this, and dig deeper before judging someone on a simple numerical value.

Consider this example of a good credit score:

Say two prospective borrowers come to you for a loan.  Both need $1,000, but their credit profiles (and credit scores) are quite different.

Borrower A: 30 years of solid credit history, $10,000 in outstanding debt, 680 credit score
Borrower B: 1 year of perfect credit history, $250 in outstanding debt, 730 credit score

In the above example, assuming you were the bank, who would you want to lend your money to?  The borrower with 30 years or pretty good credit history and some existing debt, or the borrower with a single year of credit history and very little outstanding debt?

Personally, I think I’d go with Borrower A, who despite having a lower credit score, which may not be considered as “good,” has a greater propensity to pay me back, proven by their years of credit usage.

This is why credit scoring thresholds don’t work, even though they are common in the world of mortgage lending.  Awarding borrowers for being over pre-set credit score thresholds is a fatal flaw, and one that has led to serious problems, as those who had no real history of supporting large debt loads were granted loans based on a three-digit score.

So before you think you’ve got a so-called good credit score, look at what’s behind that number before assuming you’re good to go.

The Blackjack Analogy

When I think about what makes up a good credit score, an analogy comes to mind. Think of the game Blackjack, where you bet against the dealer’s hand. Ideally, you’d like to get 21 or 20, but a lot of times you can win with a 16, 17, 18, 19, or even lower. And that’s because the key to blackjack isn’t getting 21, but rather beating the dealer’s hand or letting the dealer bust.

The same mentality is present in the credit scoring realm, where consumers yearn for perfect scores over 800. I guess you could consider a score of 800 or above blackjack, but the reality of the situation is that you don’t need a perfect score to win.

Generally, a credit score of 720 and above is considered good credit, and anything higher will do little more than stroke your ego.

Lastly, let me point out that credit scoring companies such as FICO do not determine what’s good and what’s bad. That’s up to individual lenders and creditors to decide. If you were to ask FICO what a good score would be, they’d balk at the idea. They’ll simply tell you where you stand relative to the average score.

VantageScore, on the other hand, has credit grades that make it more clear where you stand.


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