A 56-year-old government employee from Cleveland named Tom Pavelka had the "highest credit score in America" in 2012, the Daily Mail reported at the time. His near-perfect 848 ranked "higher than 100 percent of U.S. consumers," according to a letter he received from a credit bureau.
What might a score of nearly 850 have awarded him? The same things you get with any score in the excellent range and not much else, experts say, besides 15 minutes of fame, of course.
"Once you're above 760 you're getting the best rates," Greg McBride, chief analyst at Bankrate, tells CNBC Make It. "That's why obsessing over a score of 800 versus 820 is largely a waste of time."
For John Ganotis, founder of CreditCardInsider.com, the threshold is 750. Anything above that will "likely qualify you for some of the best rates and offers," he tells CNBC Make It.
You can have dozens of credit scores for different types of loans, but they'll all be in the same ballpark, since they each reflect the same credit report. FICO scores range from 300 to 850. While anything below 650 is considered problematic, a score of 700 or above is prime. Once you hit 700 "you may not get the best rates, but you'll typically qualify," says Rod Griffin, director of consumer awareness at Experian. The average FICO score recently hit an all-time high of 704.
The perks of a score in the excellent range, north of around 750 or 760, are significant. NerdWallet found that, compared to a score of 680, an excellent score could qualify you for a mortgage rate that will save you more than $10,000 in interest over 30 years.
A credit score is not all that matters, though. "It's important to remember credit approval decisions are based on more than just one of your credit scores," Ganotis says. "Lenders consider other factors, like income and information on your credit reports."
That's why Griffin recommends checking your report at least once a year, which is free and will not damage your score. (The idea that monitoring your score hurts it is another common misconception.) "You can't do anything about your credit report until you know what's in it," says Griffin. "If there's something you need to address, take action."
If you're like most consumers, raising your score could simply be a matter of consistently paying your bills on time and keeping your balances low. "Everything else," Griffin says, "builds on those two factors."
A number of things appear to have contributed to Pavelka's 848. He said that he and his wife Helga had eight credit cards and a credit limit exceeding $120,000. That allowed them to keep their utilization ratio low. Most people with excellent scores have an average of three open cards and three that have been closed, according to a recent FICO analysis.
Pavelka had also bought cars using an equity line that he later paid off in full, which likely improved his score, since it showed credit bureaus that he was good for what he borrowed.
"I like to spend money," he said. "I just do it wisely."
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