They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your credit score.
The three-digit number that makes up your credit score helps lenders deem your creditworthiness -- or the likelihood that you’ll default on your payments, or not pay back what you borrow. Your credit score helps determine whether a lender will approve you for a loan or line of credit, and the terms of that loan, including your interest rate. But building a solid credit score takes time, particularly if you have your eyes set on that elusive 800 to 850 credit score.
“It takes three things to build strong credit: being diligent about making payments on time every single time, being consistent and being dull,” said Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy for Experian. “From a lender’s perspective, they don’t like surprises. So, it’s all about how you manage the credit you have available to you and doing it well over time. It’s not about having lots of accounts or high credit limits.”
Considered “exceptional” by FICO, an 800 credit score or higher can help you get approved for larger loans with more favorable terms and lower interest rates -- a compelling concept in our current rising rate environment. But only 21% of people with a FICO credit score have a score of 800 or above, according to a report by FICO, while the average has remained steadfast at 714 since September 2021.
Although it isn’t a perfect credit score, an 800 is pretty close. Below we’ll look at what it means to have a high score, how to get there and the best ways to maintain one.
What does it mean if you have a credit score over 800?
Your credit score is considered exceptional if you have an 800 under the FICO system -- one of the two main credit scoring models used in the US. But to achieve this level of success, you must have a nearly perfect credit history. That means not missing payments and keeping your credit utilization, the ratio of debt to available credit, well below 30%.
FICO calculates your credit score based on five factors: payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit mix and new credit. If you have an 800 credit score, you likely pay your bills on time, have a healthy mix of credit (meaning accounts other than just credit cards), use a small percentage of your available credit and limit new credit inquiries. But having a near-perfect credit history doesn’t guarantee automatic approval for new credit products because lenders consider more than just your credit score. When you apply for a new line of credit, a lender needs to grasp what kind of borrower you are. They consider any indicator of your ability to repay a debt, including your income, employment history and existing debts.
Still, an 800 credit score is something to be proud of because it shows you put in the work to maintain healthy credit accounts. And most lenders find that to be a solid indicator of what kind of borrower you are when it comes to credit.
How to get an 800 credit score
1. Build your credit history
If you feel like you’ve exhausted your options when it comes to building your credit because you consistently pay your credit card bills on time but haven’t hit 800 yet, it’s time to sit back and wait. Your length of credit history accounts for 15% of your credit score. And as your existing credit accounts age, so does your credit score. A longer credit history can help boost your credit score, so try to avoid closing old credit accounts even if you don’t necessarily use them every day.
A scarce mix of credit accounts can also make it hard to turn a good credit score into an exceptional one. Different types of credit accounts, such as revolving credit accounts, installment loans or retail accounts, account for 10% of your credit score. A mix of credit shows lenders you can handle more than one type of credit account (assuming each account is in good standing).
2. Make consistent on-time payments
Payment history is the most important credit factor, accounting for 35% of your FICO score. You must pay your bills on time every month. If you don’t make a payment by its due date, you typically have 30 days to pay an outstanding bill before your lender reports the missed payment to the three major credit bureaus. However, don’t use this as an excuse not to pay on time. Missing a payment can have several long-term consequences, including interest charges, late payment fees and penalty APRs. Enroll in autopay to ensure your balances are paid on time.
3. Maintain a low credit utilization
Amounts owed, or credit utilization, make up 30% of your credit score. It measures the amount of credit you use in relation to your total credit limit. Experts suggest using at most 30% of your credit limit to maintain a healthy credit score. But people with credit scores over 800 use about 7% of their available credit, according to FICO.
You might even consider treating your credit card like a debit card to keep your credit utilization low. Paying off your credit card as you spend can help you maintain a low credit utilization and avoid accruing interest charges, late fees and other penalties.
4. Add your bills to your credit report
You can report your monthly bills and positive banking activity to your credit file with free tools like Experian Boost and UltraFICO. You can even report your rent payments through third-party sites like Rental Kharma, RentTrack and PayYourRent. Keep in mind, however, programs like Experian Boost and UltraFICO only impact your Experian credit report.
“If you’re working to build your credit history, have your rent, cell phone payment, natural gas bill, electric bill and water bill reported because they can all help increase your score,” said Griffin. “Even today, things like your Netflix bill can help you build your credit history. So take advantage of those [tools] available to you.”
5. Monitor your credit report
Check your credit reports with the three credit bureaus regularly to ensure your information is correct, and there are no errors. Errors can impact your credit and severely damage your credit score, so it’s important to watch out for accounts you don’t recognize, incorrect account statuses, derogatory marks, unknown addresses and incorrect balances or credit limits.
“If an error is found, it is best to notify the financial institution of the issue for two reasons,” said Max Axler, chief credit officer at Synchrony. “The first is that it might be a systemic issue and without this feedback from consumers, the financial institution may not identify the issue. The second is that financial institutions have robust processes to take consumer feedback, diligence the issue and modify the reporting to the bureaus.”
If you do find any errors, you can dispute any errors for free with the credit bureaus. You can obtain your credit report for free from AnnualCreditReport.com -- and through the end of 2023, the credit agencies have partnered with this site to offer you a free credit report each week.
The benefits of having an 800 credit score
An 800 credit score can lead to many benefits, such as lower rates, better credit card offers and lower insurance premiums.
“Don’t worry about having a perfect score and don’t worry too much about [your] score fluctuating, and sometimes even fairly significantly,” said Griffin. “Scores will change as your credit history changes. And it can be 40 or 50 point swings, but the reality is a swing from 820 to a 780 doesn’t mean anything in real terms related to getting the credit [you] need. You’re still going to get the best terms and the best rates. I encourage people to strive for the highest scores they can get. But don’t panic when you see them move up and down.”
Keep in mind an 800 credit score doesn’t guarantee these benefits, but you’re more likely to receive more desirable benefits with an exceptional score, including the following:
- Better approval odds: It depends on the card, but a credit score in the good to exceptional range (700+) can likely qualify you for some of the best credit cards, including rewards cards earning cash back, points or miles, luxury travel cards and lower annual percentage rates (APRs). Different tiers of credit cards are available for all credit levels, but an 800 score bypasses the minimum credit score for most credit products. If you are in the home-buying process, for example, you can typically get a conventional loan with as little as a 620 credit score. But the higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate.
- Lower interest rates: An 800 credit score can help you secure some of the best interest rates available. Low interest rates can help you save thousands of dollars throughout the payback period on any line of credit or loan. For example, if you’re looking to refinance your home loan, a higher credit score can help you lock in a lower mortgage refinance rate.
- Higher credit limits: You generally have more purchasing power with an 800 credit score, meaning lenders are more willing to lend you higher credit limits. With a high credit limit, it’s easier to maintain a lower credit utilization ratio.
- Lower insurance premiums: Eight states restrict the use of credit scores when determining insurance rates, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Utah and Washington. However, most states allow insurance companies to use your credit score to determine insurance rates. And an 800 credit score will likely qualify you for a lower premium on your insurance policy.
How to maintain (and grow) an exceptional credit score
Half the battle with an 800 credit score is keeping it high. Even after you put in the work to achieve an exceptional credit score, you must continue practicing healthy credit habits because one missed payment -- or too many credit inquiries -- can have an adverse impact on your credit score. Your credit score fluctuates, and one wrong move can send you backward. But if you consistently pay your credit card bills on time, keep your balances low and monitor your credit report regularly, your credit score will thrive.
“It’s normal to have some volatility in your credit score from time to time as purchasing needs fluctuate,” said Axler. “[But] I think the key is doing what you can by creating positive momentum and being patient. Scores are designed to reduce volatility in movement and so it can take time, particularly if you are rebuilding your credit score.”
The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.