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4 Habits of High Credit Scorers

From paying on time to keeping balances low, here’s how to have a good credit standing

spinner image credit report showing high score of 850 and a calculator spelling out the word "approved"
iStock / Getty Images

Having a good credit score is an enviable position to be in, especially in today’s environment marked by rising interest rates. With a high credit score you’ll get favorable rates on loans, superior terms and lots of offers. 

According to Experian, the credit scoring agency, a credit score between 800 and 850 is deemed exceptional, while 740-799 is considered very good and 670-739 is good. Anything below that and it may be more costly to borrow money. It could mean you need to provide collateral or pay a higher interest rate. ​​

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Obtaining a high credit score may seem tough, especially if you’re saddled with a low score and costly debt. But these high credit scorers share several habits you can emulate, and it all starts with knowing what goes into your credit score. “They understand what factors matter,” says Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “They are cognizant of that and it’s reflected in how they handle their finances.”​

Credit Score Factors

spinner image pie chart showing factors that make up credit score
Factors that make up the FICO credit score which is used by many lenders. (chart courtesy Credit Karma)

From paying on time to keeping balances low, here’s a look at four habits of people with good credit, and tips to get yourself inducted into this group. 

1. They pay on time

Your credit score consists of several factors, and a big one,  accounting for about one-third, is payment history. Lenders want to know you pay your bills on time and reward those consumers who do it consistently. “Folks with good credit always pay on time, ideally in full, but if not, at least the minimum payment ahead of time,” says Alev. “This guarantees they won’t have a late payment.” ​

How to emulate it: To make sure you pay your loans on time, make it automatic. Setting up auto-pay takes the risk out of missing a payment. If you don’t want to use auto-pay, pay your bill a few days before the due date if you are paying online. If it’s by mail, send in the payment a week in advance to ensure it lands at your lender or credit card issuer before it’s due. “Consumers who pay their bills on time and in full every month avoid late fees, prevent accumulating debt and provide proof of their ability to repay debts, making lenders more likely to offer them the best credit terms,” says Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy for Experian. ​

2. They keep their debt levels low

Your credit utilization, or how much money you owe compared to how much credit was extended to you, is an important part of your credit score, accounting for 30 percent. If you have $10,000 in credit and owe $5,000, your credit utilization is 50 percent. Ideally, you want that to be at 30 percent or less. “If your balances are high or getting close to being maxed out, it will negatively affect your credit score,” says Alev. Typically, high credit scorers have utilization rates in the 10 to 20 percent range. ​

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How to emulate it: If your credit cards are maxed out or get close to that, work hard to pay down that debt. Tackle the cards with the highest utilization first and try to avoid charging once they are paid down. The good news is, this portion of your credit score can rebound quickly once you pay down your debt. If you do pay it off completely, resist the temptation to close the account. Your credit utilization will look a lot better if you have open accounts with little in the way of a balance. “It’s not a ding forever,” says Alev. “We recommend keeping an eye on it.” ​

3. They are vigilant with their credit score

Burying your head in the sand is easy; facing the reality of your situation not so much, particularly if you are drowning in debt. People with high credit scores tend to stay apprised of it, checking in periodically to make sure their credit scores are still pristine.  If they spot something wrong, they react. “One of the easiest habits you can follow to maintain a good credit score is reviewing your credit report and credit score regularly,” says Griffin. “Staying up-to-date on what is being reported can help you catch any changes, suspicious activity or incorrect items, and help you address them sooner rather than later.” ​

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How to emulate it: By law, everyone is entitled to one free credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion per year, but since COVID-19 the reports have been accessible for free weekly. That is slated to expire at the end of 2023. To request free copies of your credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Be wary of other sites that may try to charge you for your reports or attempt to steal your personal information. ​You can also monitor your credit score via free apps like Credit Karma or with your bank. Many financial institutions offer their customers access to credit scoring information.​

4. They save regularly

High credit scorers tend to have money saved in the bank and as a result don’t have to turn to credit cards in the event of an emergency. That enables them to keep their utilization low and their credit score intact. “While it might not be the most exciting thing to do, consumers who track their income, expenses and savings tend to live and spend within their means and avoid using credit without a plan,” says Griffin. ​

How to emulate it: Start a habit of saving by putting away a percentage of your income each time you get paid. The more you save, the better, but even if it’s $50 a pay period that’s better than nothing. 

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