Americans are obsessed with their credit scores. There are those who are laser-focused on attaining a score above 800, and even the credit fanatics who boast of high scores in their dating profiles. Apps and programs proliferate, promising to help consumers understand and improve their scores, and in turn, it goes unsaid, their lives.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and any information consumers can use to improve their financial lives is a net positive for society. But if you find yourself constantly thinking about the three numbers attached to your credit report, experts say you can probably relax a little bit.
There's a lot tied up in a credit score. Sure, in theory it simply tells companies how "creditworthy" a particular individual is — how likely they are to pay their bills on time. And a good score, on the higher end of a range typically between 300 and 850, can lead to lower interest rates on loans and better credit card offerings. But for consumers, it's not always purely a financial tool: There's an emotional component to it, too, that can drive people to extreme lengths to improve their scores.
"It's amazingly emotional," Rod Griffin, director of consumer education and advocacy at credit reporting company Experian, tells CNBC Make It. "I think sometimes we expend too much emotional currency on credit scores and not enough on doing common sense things with our finances."
And in 2019, when maximizing every aspect of our lives and becoming as efficient as possible is idealized, attaining a perfect or near-perfect score is another line item to cross off of our Type A to-do lists.
But unless you're in the market for a home, a new cell phone plan, a car, credit card or some other financial product, you don't really need to worry.
"It's clearly something you should be aware of and concerned about, but not overly stressed about," says Griffin. "I stress about the information in my report, not the number."
Credit scores are a reflection of what's in each consumer's credit reports. If the building blocks of your credit reports are sound, meaning you're paying your bills on time, every time, and you are keeping your credit utilization rate low, then a high score will follow.
"There's no big secret to having a good credit score, it's just consistency and thoughtfulness and common sense," says Griffin.
More importantly, while credit scores can tell you if a person pays their bills on time, they can't tell you much else.
"I've had people ask me, 'I just found out that my fiance has a poor credit score, should I break off my engagement?'" says Griffin. The answer is: "No. Now you have a goal to work toward in your marriage, but it's not a reason to not get married. It's something you should definitely discuss."
If you have a decent score — above 750, in most cases, according to Griffin — there's not much use in stressing out over improving it: You'll likely qualify for the best offers. The difference between 700 and 750 is much more significant than between 750 and 800.
But trying to attain a score above 800, or the "perfect" 850, is just putting unneeded pressure on yourself. Not only will it not really help you more financially compared to a few points less, but it will never stay at that "perfect" number, because credit scores are always changing.
"Check your credit history, use the tools that are available to you to help boost that score and elevate it, and then enjoy the rest of your life," says Griffin. "There's a lot more to life than a credit score."
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