When you need to apply for a new type of financing, whether it’s a credit card or a car loan, you might start paying attention to what kind of credit score you have.

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After all, lenders use that number to determine whether or not you’re approved, and if you are, what kind of interest rate you’ll be charged.

Think you have fair credit?

Keep reading to get your credit score, what it means to have fair credit, and how you can start improving your credit history to access better interest rates and financing terms.

What does it mean to have a fair credit score?

FICO, the most widely used credit scoring system in the country, uses a points scale from 300 to 850 to determine consumers’ credit score. Using that scale, a “fair” credit score is considered to range from 580 to 669.

There are a couple of different ways you can check your credit score. First, see if your bank or credit card offers a free FICO check. Many financial institutions offer this free service to their members.

If you don’t have access to a free score, you can purchase it directly from FICO. There are also free online credit scores you can use as a reference point, but they generally vary from the true FICO score since they use different algorithms.

What are the characteristics of someone with a fair credit score?

There are no published criteria stating what exactly entails a fair credit score, but experts have gleaned that this type of consumer has the following characteristics:

  • At least one credit card or loan
  • No more than $5,000 in credit lines
  • No more than one 60+ day late payment in the last 12 months

What does this mean for fair credit borrowers?

To bump up to your credit score to the “good” range” you’ll need to have your 60+ day delinquencies removed or aged beyond 12 months.

Additionally, you’ll typically need about three years of credit history in order to bump up your score. Once you hit a score of 670, you’re considered to be in the good range and will have better credit opportunities available to you.

Are fair and average credit scores the same?

The average American’s score is up to a 700 on the FICO score range. That’s more than 30 points above the top end of a fair credit score so they definitely don’t mean the same thing. Typically, the bottom of the score range is considered bad, then fair, good, very good, and excellent. Most Americans, then, have good credit.

Your credit score can affect many aspects of your life, even beyond interest rates for financial products. Some employers may request to access your credit report during the job application process.

Potential landlords can do the same when you’re trying to rent a new house or apartment. Another hidden cost of having below-average credit is higher insurance premiums.

Clearly, it’s vital to know how to maintain and improve your credit score, regardless of where you currently fall on the spectrum.

What can cause your fair credit score to drop?

Before you can improve your credit score, you need to know how to maintain it. Avoid making late payments (more on that shortly) and don’t close any credit cards unless you’re paying an annual fee.

Why? The age of your credit history is a factor in your credit score. When you close old accounts, you’ll eventually lose that long history on your credit report.

Also, avoid acquiring more debt. Save up an emergency fund so you don’t have to use your credit cards as your financial backup.

Finally, avoid getting any public records like a judgment, tax lien, or bankruptcy. These can cause dramatic drops in your credit score and will likely take you from the fair category to the bad credit category.

It can be extremely difficult to dig yourself out of having bad credit, not to mention all of the limitations you’ll face when trying to obtain any type of new financing. Even if you qualify for a loan or credit card with bad credit, it’ll cost you a lot in interest, fees, and potentially security deposits.

How can you improve your fair credit score?

There are several things you can do to begin raising your credit score from fair to the next level. Here’s a quick rundown of a variety of tactics, some of which can increase your score quickly while others may take more time.

Dispute Inaccuracies

After you’ve received your three credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, check each one for accuracy. If you see any errors, file a dispute with the relevant credit bureau.

Alternatively, you can also enlist the help of a professional credit repair company to manage the process for you. Either way, it can take time to get incorrect items removed from your credit report. But once you do, you could see a big jump in your score.

Make Payments On-time

The largest factor impacting your fair credit score is whether or not you make your payments on time. Any late payments after 30 days can be reported to the credit bureaus by your creditors.

If you have negative listings and they’re accurate, you may need to wait for them to age a bit so your score is affected less significantly. Moving forward, make sure you prioritize your bill payments so that they’re on time each month.

Pay Off Your Debt

If you’re looking for a quick credit win, consider paying off a large chunk of your debt, if possible. Depending on how much you owe, your score can really jump by lowering your amount of debt. This is especially true of credit card debt, which hurts your credit score more than installment loans.

Maintain a Low Credit Utilization

Another relevant consideration when paying off your debt is how much credit you utilize on each credit line. If you have more than 30% of your credit limit charged to a card, your score will drop.

So when deciding on how to pay off your credit card debt, consider paying each one down to the 30% threshold. On a card with a $10,000 limit, for example, you shouldn’t carry more than a $3,000 balance at any given time.

Bottom Line

Having fair credit certainly isn’t the worst kind of credit. But as with most things in life, there’s definitely room for improvement.

Once you’ve identified where your credit score falls, you can next make a plan to increase it. That way, you can build a better financial future with competitive interest rates and loan terms that suit your own needs.