Do you know your credit range?
Credit ranges help you to understand your FICO credit score, what it means and how it compares to others.
Consumers in the excellent credit range, 720 or higher, qualify for the best rates for credit cards, mortgage rates and loan products.
Anthony Sprauve, FICO public relations director, called credit ranges "a good starting point" for consumers, but says credit and lending decisions are ultimately up to the lender.
"It's important to understand the lender makes the choice of the cut-off point," Sprauve says.
Lenders decide the cut-off point for the credit applications they approve and the interest rates they offer on their credit cards, loans and other products.
Here is a look at four ranges of FICO scores with tips and advice from experts for building, improving and maintaining a good credit score.
If you have a FICO score of less than 620, you are in the lowest credit range.
"When you hit below 620, that's the danger zone. Getting approved is a 50-50 chance, maybe less," says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com.
If your credit score is 500 or lower, Ulzheimer says that it is unlikely you'll be approved for credit and if you are approved the terms will be punitive, such as above 15 percent on an auto loan and above 9 percent on a mortgage.
One way to lift your score out of the lowest credit range is by applying for a secured credit card and using it to build a good payment history, advises Sheri Stuart, education manager at Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management in Riverside, Calif.
"You secure the use of the funds with your own money, but you're getting payment history for that," Stuart says. "Make sure the card is reported to all three national credit reporting bureaus."
If you have a low credit score due to a bankruptcy or a foreclosure it may take you some time to rebuild your credit.
"If you're in a poor score range because of derogatory information, you can't just snap your fingers and make that stuff disappear," Ulzheimer says.
A bankruptcy will be on your credit record for 10 years, a foreclosure for seven years, Ulzheimer explains. But as the years pass, those derogatory items will have less of an impact on your score.
"The best piece of advice is to be realistic and be patient because it's just going to take some time," Ulzheimer says.
620 to 659
If you have a FICO score of 620 to 659 than you have fair credit, and if you are approved for credit products you will pay higher interest rates than consumers with good or excellent credit scores.
"650 is the recognized cutoff between prime and subprime," Ulzheimer says. "If your credit score is below 650, there's no guarantee that you're going to get approved or get a competitive interest rate."
A consumer whose credit score falls into this credit range may not have a strong payment history, may be new to the credit world or may be close to exhausting the credit they already have, Stuart explains.
"Their cards could be close to maxed out," Stuart says.
The best advice is to reduce credit card debt if you have it and build up a positive payment history, Stuart advises.
660 to 719
If you have a FICO score between 660 and 719 then you have good credit, and you will likely be approved for credit at competitive but not rock-bottom rates.
If your credit score is in the upper end of the good range, 680 and up, "you're probably going to get approved, (but) it's very unlikely you'll get the best deal," Ulzheimer says. "You may need to put more money down. And you may not get zero-percent financing."
A consumer whose credit falls in the good credit range may have some established payment history and some outstanding debt that they are paying back pretty much on-time, Stuart explains.
To improve a good credit score, Stuart suggests paying off credit card debt.
720 and up
If you have a FICO score between 720 and 850, you are in the highest credit range and you have excellent credit.
"If you have a 720 or higher, you're paying lower interest rates, you're getting zero percent (on credit cards)," Stuart says. "You're being rewarded for your good management."
To get the absolute best rate on an auto loan, you will need a credit score of 720 and higher, Ulzheimer says.
Mortgage lenders may be even more selective when offering the lowest rates on mortgages and home equity lines of credit.
"You need 760 or above to get the best rate on a mortgage, 740 for a HELOC," Ulzheimer advises.
The higher your excellent credit score the more likely you are to qualify for the very best deal from a lender.
"If you are 760 or above … you're pretty much in the safe zone," Ulzheimer says.