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A good credit score is one that falls within the range of 670 to 739 on the popular FICO scoring model, and between 661 to 780 on the VantageScore model.
With the average FICO credit score in the U.S. hitting a record high of 703 last year, many Americans are now enjoying the benefits of having good credit. With a solid credit score, you have better access to lending and even enjoy lower rates on car insurance, among numerous other benefits.
But once you reach that good or excellent three-digit number, you'll need to practice a few consistent behaviors to maintain it throughout your life. Luckily, it's not hard once you understand how credit scores are evaluated. And if your credit isn't quite as high as you'd like it to be yet, the tips we share below can also help you improve your score, too.
Below, CNBC Select recommends four easy tips for maintaining a good credit score.
Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO score calculation. We recommend you always pay your bills on time and in full, but even if you can only pay the minimum balance you should always meet your due date.
Whether it's your credit card or utility bill, pay every kind of financial commitment on time. Even parking tickets and overdue library books can show up on your credit report. If you have trouble remembering the due dates, set up autopay that will automatically transfer the funds out of your account on a set date.
And if you are struggling to pay your credit card bill due to coronavirus, know that most card issuers are offering financial assistance programs that could allow you to defer your monthly payment, waive any late fees or increase your credit line.
Having a low balance and a high credit limit is the perfect equation for a healthy credit utilization rate (CUR). This simple percentage measures how much credit you are using (your balance) compared to how much credit you have available across all of your cards (your credit limit). You may have heard your CUR described as your "debt-to-credit ratio."
It's important to note that your CUR is not just the dollar amount you owe, but the percentage of how much your debt balance compares to your credit limit.
For example, if you have a $500 balance on your Chase Sapphire Reserve® with a $10,000 credit limit, your credit utilization rate is 5%. But if you are comparing your situation to someone else who has the same $500 balance but on a different card, such as on the Capital One® Secured with a credit limit of $1,000, their CUR is a much higher 50%.
Your CUR is the second most important factor in calculating your FICO credit score, making up 30%. The general rule of thumb if to keep your credit utilization rate below 30%, but the lower it is, the better for your score. Some experts even suggest 10%.
If you think you are spending too much of a certain card's credit limit, it may make sense to open up another card to increase your overall credit limit (assuming you can pay off any new balances).
Even if you no longer use your first credit card, you may want to keep the account open. Be sure to dust off the card every few months or so in order to keep it active, or you can charge a small recurring subscription (such as your iCloud or Hulu subscription) to the card, and pay it off each month with autopay.
Your credit history, or how long you have had credit, makes up 15% of your FICO credit score, so you don't want to close your oldest card and wipe away all those years you've had credit from your history. Closing a credit card (no matter its age) will also decrease your overall credit limit and lower your CUR.
There is one exception to this rule: It's OK to cancel a credit card with a high annual fee, if you don't use it regularly and it no longer works for your budget.
In order to get the most out of your credit card, you need to use it periodically. Otherwise, card issuers can close your account if they decide it's inactive, which can ding your credit score in the short term.
With certain credit cards, you can earn rewards for the spending you're doing anyways by charging your basics, like gas and groceries. Just make sure you pay off your balances on time and in full each month to really use these cards to your advantage. You can set up autopay to ensure you don't miss a payment or you can make periodic payments throughout your billing cycle to keep a low statement balance. The lower your statement balance, the lower your credit utilization rate and the better your credit score.
CNBC Select ranked the best credit cards for both grocery shopping and buying gas. If you find yourself spending more in these two categories, you may want to consider the below top credit card picks.
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: For a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), cardholders earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) and 3% back at U.S. gas stations. And if you find yourself spending a lot of time on Netflix, Spotify or Hulu, you can also earn 6% cash back on these and other select U.S. streaming subscriptions, as well as 3% back on transit and 1% back on other purchases. Applicants need good or excellent credit to qualify. See rates and fees.
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card: If you already have an Amazon Prime membership and do a lot of your shopping online, this card is a no-brainer. You'll earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market, as well as 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% back on all other purchases. New cardholders also receive a $100 Amazon.com gift card upon approval. Applicants need good or excellent credit, as well as an Amazon Prime membership, to qualify.
- PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card: For no annual fee, cardholders earn 5X points on gas, 3X points on groceries and 1X points on all other purchases. Applicants need good or excellent credit to qualify and membership to the PenFed credit union is required. Anyone can join by completing a few extra steps: You need to apply, open a savings account with a $5 deposit and maintain a $5 account balance.
Not only will using credit cards like these reward you for purchasing the basics, but most cards have added perks, such as purchase protection and travel insurance.
Information about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card and Capital One® Secured has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.
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