For many people, credit is one of the most important indicators of fiscal responsibility. Having great credit gives you better opportunities when it comes to borrowing and low interest rates. Depending on the circumstances, having excellent credit can save you thousands of dollars in interest over the years.
To help people improve credit, Experian has shared some data on the different credit tiers as described by VantageScore. With it comes a few lessons on how individuals can improve their credit score and establish an excellent track record.
What is VantageScore?
VantageScore is a credit scoring model created as an alternative to the FICO score. While not used as widely as the FICO score for lending purposes, the VantageScore’s model is fairly close to that of the FICO score.
Many popular credit scoring tools use the VantageScore, including Credit Karma and Credit.com.
The VantageScore credit tiers are as follows:
- Super prime: 781-850
- Prime: 661-780
- Nonprime: 601-660
- Subprime: 500-600
- Deep subprime: 300-499
Most lenders still use the FICO score when processing credit applications. But the VantageScore is still be a good indicator of overall credit health and areas you can improve.
4 ways to build excellent credit
As you’re looking to build or rebuild your credit, there are certain habits that you’ll want to develop along the way:
1. Use your credit cards less
Super-prime consumers use just 8% of their credit card balances, while deep-subprime users have all but maxed their cards out. The more debt you carry on your credit cards, the more it looks as if you can’t manage your debt, or that you’re financially unable to pay off your debts.
“A general rule of thumb is to always keep your utilization rate below 30%,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian. “Ideally, you should pay your balances in full each month.”
To keep an eye on your balance, Griffin recommends setting a balance alert on your account. “If you have a $10,000 credit limit, set your balance alert for $2,500, so you know when you are getting close to 30%,” he says.
2. Keep old accounts open
The more experience you have with credit, the more likely lenders are to trust you. The average super-prime consumer opened their first credit account 27 years ago. When you keep old accounts open, whether they are credit cards or a line of credit, your credit history establishes that you’ve been doing this for a while.
Even if you don’t plan to use your old credit cards, put a small recurring charge on them and set up auto-pay, so you don’t miss a payment. This process will keep the account active. Then, you can stick the card in a sock drawer.
3. Space out credit applications
People with excellent credit tend to not need new credit very often. Only 31% of those in VantageScore’s top tier applied for credit in the last year, compared with 57% in the lowest tier. If you don’t space out your credit applications, it may come off as desperation to lenders.
Be wise about your borrowing. Avoid applying for credit unless you need it. And if you get denied, take a step back and try to find out why before you start applying again.
“Too many inquiries in a short time can negatively impact your credit score,” says Griffin. “However, the effect will be minimal and short-lived. Although hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years, they typically only impact scores in a meaningful way for a few months.”
4. Don’t be late
“Late payments are the most important factor in credit scores,” Griffin says. “Even a single late payment can have a substantial impact on your scores.”
Those in the super prime tier have no missed payments at all. If you think you may have a hard time making on-time payments, set up auto-pay so you don’t forget.
If it’s a matter of affordability, ask yourself whether you need the debt. If it’s a car loan, consider selling the car and downsizing to an inexpensive one. If it’s a credit card, create a plan now to pay off your debt as soon as possible. As soon as you can establish 100% on-time payments, you’re on your way to credit success.
The next steps
Now that you know how to establish excellent credit, the next step is to understand where you stand currently. Check your credit score and get a free copy of your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
As you look through your score and reports, look for areas in which you can improve. Then create an action plan. Building credit takes time, but it’s time well spent. You’ll not only save money when it comes time to borrow again, but you’ll also spend less time worrying about your finances.
Ben Luthi is a personal finance writer and a credit cards expert who loves helping consumers and business owners make better financial decisions. His work has been featured in Time, MarketWatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report, CNBC, Success Magazine, USA Today, The Huffington Post and many more.