A credit score could make the difference in qualifying for a mortgage or car loan, a new credit card, or, in some cases, whether you can get a new job. The good news is that the average U.S. credit score has reached a new high of 704, according to Fair Isaac. The company’s FICO score is probably the most common credit score used by lenders in making credit decisions.
A decade ago, the average credit score for Americans dropped to 686. The housing crisis and the financial crisis that followed led to a massive number of foreclosures, and it has taken this long to turn around that decline.
A Fair Isaac vice-president for scores and analytics told CNBC:
As we’ve gotten further from the Great Recession, lenders are increasingly competing for new card volume, and part of that is loosening their underwriting criteria in order to be more competitive.
To some degree, the increase is due to new regulations regarding public records that no longer permit credit reports to contain information related to civil judgments and tax liens. People also have been paying down debts, but that behavior may be changing too. CNBC notes that credit card balances and delinquencies have begun rising again.
The increase in U.S. credit card accounts has been most pronounced among consumers with less than solid credit. That means their credit scores are below 660, a level the credit industry calls “subprime.” Subprime borrowers pay higher interest rates than those with “good” credit, defined as a credit score of 700 to 749. Any score above 750 is defined as “excellent.”
CNBC also noted four tactics Americans can use to raise a low credit score:
- Always pay on time.
- Don’t max out your cards.
- Pay down debt.
- Regularly check your credit reports.
Another good tactic, though it has more to do with security than the actual score, is to take advantage of a new rule that makes it free to freeze reporting of your credit score without your express consent. This helps prevent a thief from getting hold of your private financial data and using it illegally. There are protections for monetary losses if that should happen, but restoring your credit score can take up a lot of time.