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Your credit utilization rate (also known as your credit utilization ratio, or CUR) is the amount of credit you're using compared to the amount of credit you have available. So, if you have an $800 credit card balance and you have a $2,000 credit card limit, your CUR is 40%:
($800 / $2,000 = 0.4 X 100 = 40%)
Experts generally recommend keeping your utilization rate below 30% (depending on the scoring system used) — but CNBC Select spoke to two credit gurus who say to aim for a single-digit utilization rate (under 10%) if you really want a good credit score.
The optimal credit utilization rate is 1%, "which is actually kind of silly to target," financial expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax, tells CNBC Select.
For Jim Droske, president of credit counseling company Illinois Credit Services (and someone with a perfect credit score), he says 1% is a healthy utilization, but "that's actually a hard number to hit unless you have high credit limits."
Americans have an average of $22,751 in available credit across their credit card accounts. Droske's total available credit limit when he had a 1% credit utilization rate was $82,700 (and his total balance was $638).
He admits his balance fluctuates, "but it never gets crazy, " Droske says, and his utilization rate is "definitely single digits."
"It doesn't have to be exactly 1%," Droske tells CNBC Select.
Instead of trying to hit and maintain a 1% utilization rate, it's best to shoot for the lowest percentage possible.
"Less than 10% is much more doable and it will serve your scores well," Ulzheimer says. "And, less than 10% is great for both FICO and VantageScore's scoring systems."
If you hope to qualify for the lowest rates on a mortgage or another loan product one day, then timing definitely matters.
Because both FICO 10 and VantageScore 4 consider historical utilization percentages over time, or your "trended data," you should start working toward a healthy utilization rate now if you want to see a better credit score later.
"This is more than just nailing it the month before you apply for a loan," Ulzheimer says. "Eventually those who maintain low utilization over time will score better than those who just pay down their credit cards just before they apply for credit."
Although experts say to keep your credit utilization rate under 30% to achieve a good credit score, it's not going to get you the top score that qualifies you for some of the best cards, such as the American Express® Gold Card for travel rewards and the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card for cash back.
With a utilization rate closer to 30%, you probably won't be maximizing the components that make up your credit score.
"Really, being in the single digits is better," Droske says. "It's the best place to be because, mathematically, it's an algorithm; you want to be at the lowest number, but anything greater than zero."
Information about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
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