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What an excellent credit score is—and how to get one

CNBC Select explains what credit score range is considered excellent, how an excellent credit score can help you and how to get a free credit report.

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A perfect credit score of 850 is hard to get, but an "excellent" credit score is more achievable.

If you want to get the best credit cards, mortgages and competitive loan rates — which can save you money over time — excellent credit can help you qualify. "Excellent" is the highest tier of credit scores you can have.

When you apply for credit, lenders review a detailed summary of your financial history, known as your credit report, to determine whether you qualify for a particular form of credit. And one part of your credit report is the three-digit number known as your credit score.

Your credit score helps tell lenders your ability to repay money lent to you.

When determining your credit score, credit agencies consider several factors related to your financial history, including payment history (whether you paid your bill on time) and amounts owed, from your current and past credit accounts.

Below, CNBC Select explains what is an excellent credit score, how excellent credit can help you, tips on getting an excellent credit score and how to get a free credit score.

The rundown: Excellent credit scores

  • What is an excellent credit score?
  • How an excellent credit score can help you
  • How to get an excellent credit score
  • How to check your credit score for free

What is an excellent credit score?

Credit score ranges vary based on the credit scoring model used (FICO versus VantageScore) and the credit bureau (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) that pulls the score. Below, you can check which credit score range you fall into, using estimates from Experian.

FICO Score

  • Very poor: 300 to 579
  • Fair: 580 to 669
  • Good: 670 to 739
  • Very good: 740 to 799
  • Excellent: 800 to 850

VantageScore

  • Very poor: 300 to 499
  • Poor: 500 to 600
  • Fair: 601 to 660
  • Good: 661 to 780
  • Excellent: 781 to 850

What factors influence your credit score

Credit scores are calculated differently depending on the credit scoring model. Here are the key factors FICO and VantageScore consider.

FICO Score

  1. Payment history (35% of your score): Whether you've paid past credit accounts on time
  2. Amounts owed (30%): The total amount of credit and loans you're using compared to your total credit limit, also known as your utilization rate
  3. Length of credit history (15%): The length of time you've had credit
  4. New credit (10%): How often you apply for and open new accounts
  5. Credit mix (10%): The variety of credit products you have, including credit cards, installment loans, finance company accounts, mortgage loans and so on

VantageScore

  1. Extremely influential: Payment history
  2. Highly influential: Type and duration of credit and percent of credit limit used
  3. Moderately influential: Total balances/debt
  4. Less influential: Available credit and recent credit behavior and inquiries

How an excellent credit score can help you

An excellent credit score can help you receive the best APRs from lenders and give you a higher chance of being approved for credit cards and loans.

Many of the best credit cards require good or excellent credit. If you want to benefit from competitive rewards, annual statement credits, luxury travel perks, 0% APR periods and more, you'll need at least a good credit score. And if you have an excellent credit score, you can maximize approval odds.

For instance, if you're looking to earn generous rewards on groceries and dining out, the American Express® Gold Card can provide you with 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X) — but you'll need good or excellent credit.

And if you want to finance new purchases or get out of debt with a balance transfer card, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, you'll also need good or excellent credit.

Take note that even if your credit score falls within the excellent range, that is not a guarantee you'll be approved for a credit card requiring excellent credit. Card issuers look at more factors than just your credit score, including income and monthly housing payments.

Check out CNBC Select's best credit cards for excellent credit.

How to get an excellent credit score

If your credit score falls within the good, fair or bad ranges and you want to get an excellent credit score, follow these tips to help raise your credit score.

  • Make on-time payments. Payment history is the most important factor in your credit score, so it's key to always pay on time. Autopay is a great way to ensure on-time payments, or you can set up reminders in your calendar.
  • Pay in full. While you should always make at least your minimum payment, we recommend paying your bill in full every month to reduce your utilization rate. (Utilization rate, a calculation of how much of your total credit limit you're using, can be found with a simple equation: your total credit card balance divided by your total credit limit).
  • Don't open too many accounts at once. Each time you apply for credit, whether it's a credit card or loan, and regardless if you're denied or approved, an inquiry appears on your credit report. Inquiries temporarily reduce your credit score about five points, though they bounce back within a few months. Try to limit applications and shop around with prequalification tools that don't hurt your credit score.

How to get a free credit score

There are dozens of free credit score services available that offer your free FICO Score or VantageScore. Here are some popular free credit score resources.

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Information about the Chase Freedom Unlimited® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.