In a Nutshell: Knowing how your credit score compares to the U.S. average gives you a good idea of how well you are managing your credit and whether you need to take steps to raise your score. But here’s a twist: The U.S. actually has two dominant and competing credit scores, from Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO score – 695 U.S. average) and a national consumer reporting agency, Experian (VantageScore 3.0 – 669 U.S. average). Read on as we cut through the confusion.
The latest research by the Fair Isaac Corporation, reflecting data as of April 2015, reports that the average U.S. FICO score is 695 on a scale ranging from 300 (the worst score) to 850 (the best score). Experian’s 2015 State of Credit Report says the average VantageScore is 669, using the same scale range as FICO’s. Both major averages have risen a little from their previous readings, indicating a slightly healthier consumer credit picture in the U.S.
The 26-point difference between the two averages reflects the different methodologies used by the two providers to calculate and assign meaning to their point systems. These differences are somewhat technical, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that credit applications are usually evaluated using FICO, whereas the credit reports available from the three major consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — use VantageScores.
FICO Vs. VantageScore: What to Avoid to Improve Your Credit
An average credit score means your credit rating is good or nearly so — better than poor but less than excellent. Each score provider has its own formula for interpreting scores, but you can safely assume that an average score is just that – a middling number that translates into average access to credit and interest rates that are neither the best nor the worst available.
Scoring depends on your credit history with respect to mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, credit inquiries, tax liens and more. Each lender is free to choose the standards it sets to evaluate credit requests.
FICO Score Tiers
FICO creates separate scores for each of the three CRAs. FICO scores generally have the following meanings:
- Bad credit: 300-629
- Fair credit: 630-689
- Good credit: 690-719
- Excellent credit: 720-850
As you can see, the current survey puts the average FICO score squarely in the “good” camp, where it’s been since April 2013. Here is a more precise breakdown of the percentage of FICO scores within defined ranges:
To meet and exceed the average FICO score of 695, you need to avoid actions that would drop you below the “good” rating, such as bankruptcy, too many delinquent payments, referral to credit collection, overextended credit and so forth. Thankfully, the impact of negative information fades over time. Almost 20 percent of the population has a FICO score of 800 or above, and about 55 percent are above average.
Although VantageScore and FICO share a range of 300 to 850, the VantageScore categories are somewhat different, spanning four credit tiers:
- Subprime tier: 300-600
- Near prime tier: 601-660
- Prime tier: 661-780
- Superprime tier: 781-850
The average VantageScore of 669 is just within the prime tier. The VantageScore is obtained by combining information from the three CRAs, and the scores are shared by all three.
Know the Components of a Credit Score and How to Improve
Both score providers look at a number of factors when computing your data score. Despite the differences in their calculations, both agree on the steps you should take to improve your credit score.
FICO Score Components
FICO uses five components with the following weightings:
- Payment history (35 percent): Your history of paying your bills on time
- Amounts owed (30 percent): Owing money isn’t necessarily a negative, but using a high percentage of your available credit can count against you
- Length of credit history (15 percent): A longer credit history helps boost your credit score
- Credit mix in use (10 percent): The types of credit you use and the number of dormant credit accounts
- New credit (10 percent): You’ll be downgraded for opening too many accounts in a short period of time
VantageScore looks at the same factors to determine your credit score, but calculates them differently as you’ll see below.
VantageScore makes use of credit score components that differ in influence:
- Extremely influential: Your history of on-time payments is the biggest determinant of your credit score
- Highly influential: The age and type of credit accounts you own and the percentage of credit limit used have a high impact on your credit score
- Moderately influential: Total debt balances that are too high can hurt your score
- Less influential: Recent credit behavior, number of credit inquiries and available credit all affect your score to a minor extent
As you can see, these factors are the same as FICO, but are weighted differently in importance.
Managing Your Score
Here are some tips for increasing and maintaining your credit score:
- Pay your bills on time
- Apply only for the credit you need
- Keep the percentage of credit used below 30 percent
- Reduce your debt
- Strengthen your credit history by making timely payment to a mix of different credit accounts
- Avoid maxed-out credit cards, late payments, default, foreclosure and bankruptcy
Taking these actions will ensure your credit improves and/or maintains a good standing.
The two main credit scoring systems in use are FICO and VantageScore, which use similar but not identical algorithms. At 695 and 669, respective of the two systems, the average credit score in the U.S. is in the “good” range, but only barely. If you can achieve a credit score that is average or better, you can get reasonable access to credit and not be saddled with overly high interest rates.