Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on Sept. 11. Volunteer today



Contests and

Driver Safety

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Happy African American couple

AARP Books

Visit the Books Section

Enjoy titles on retirement, Social Security, and becoming debt-free.

Jobs You Might Like

most popular


Pay Down Your Debt Challenge

Improve Your Credit Score With These Simple Secrets

A look at the credit scoring system and how you can make it work for you

Pay Down Your Debt Challenge Icon

En español | If you want to have a great credit rating, you have to know how the credit scoring system works.

See also: What factors affect your credit score?

FICO credit scores, which are the most widely used credit scores, range from 300 to 850 points. But the VantageScore is an important credit score, too. The VantageScore ranges from 501 to 990 points. (In case you haven't heard of it, the VantageScore was jointly developed by the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

When I recently checked my credit scores, I was happy to see that I continue to have a stellar credit rating: My FICO score was 798 and my VantageScore was a perfect 990.

I'm not telling you this to brag. On the contrary, I want you to see how it's possible to go from having awful credit to having a pristine credit record.

You see, back in my college days and well into my early 30s, I often mismanaged credit and debt. As a result, my credit was awful and I wound up in debt. Fast forward to 2011, and I have zero credit card debt and excellent credit, too.

debt challenge secrets to improve credit score row of credit cards

— Photo by: Ian McKinnell/Getty Images

For starters, it's important to understand what criteria are used to calculate your credit scores. With the FICO system, here's how your credit is evaluated:

  • Payment history – 35 percent of your score
  • Amount of credit card debt owed – 30 percent
  • Length of credit history – 15 percent
  • Mix of credit – 10 percent
  • Inquiries or new credit – 10 percent

The VantageScore attributes slightly different weightings to these categories, but it, too, evaluates each of these areas.

Next: Besides paying on time, these 5 things can help improve your credit. >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits HomeServe

Members can protect their homes with comprehensive repair plans from HomeServe.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can find discounts on the go via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Being Social


Hand holding credit cards

Pay Down Your Debt Challenge

Join our challenge July 18-Aug. 14 and start your debt-free journey. Discuss


Savings Challenge

Have the gift of thrift? Share your tips. Discuss