Credit Score 101: How Does Credit Work?

From buying a home or car to even just applying for an apartment, your credit score proves to be a significant part of everyday life, ensuring that you can make small and big purchases of all kinds. Credit can be confusing to navigate for many reasons, but understanding how credit works and what your credit score actually means can bring you peace of mind and help you from digging yourself into a financial hole. Wondering “how does credit work” and want to learn more about credit? Our comprehensive guide covers all you need to know below.

Chapter 1

What Is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a three-digit number ranging from 300 to 850, which signifies your “creditworthiness,” or your general ability to repay borrowed money. The higher the number, the better your credit. Note that these numbers will vary a bit between creditors and the credit score formula they’re using. Occasionally, creditors will assign you a letter grade rather than a number.

Chapter 2

How is Credit Score Used?

Lenders and financial institutions use your credit score to predict how well you’ll be able to repay your loans. A lender could be a bank, credit card company, and even a car dealership. A non-lender, most notably a landlord or property manager, can also perform a credit inquiry and make decisions based on it. For example, a property manager may require you to have a good credit score to sign a lease. Naturally, this means your credit score can have a significant impact on your finances and quality of life.

Higher credit scores give you more options and flexibility, and greater access to credit products. For instance, a borrower with a score of 750 or above may qualify for zero percent financing on cars, as well as credit cards with a zero percent introductory interest rate.

That said, a low credit score does not disqualify you from buying a car, getting a credit card, or enjoying other lifestyle amenities. You may, however, have to  pay more to do so. For instance, you might need to put down a deposit or pay higher interest rates on an auto loan. Continuing with the car example, your insurance payments might be higher as well. And if you’re taking out a mortgage, your lending institution may require a co-signer or have a shorter repayment term.

Chapter 3

How Are Credit Scores Created?

Your credit starts almost as soon as you borrow money in any form. Whether you apply for a credit card, take out a student loan, or secure a business loan, the information and data go directly to the three major credit bureaus in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These three credit bureaus store and report all of this information to calculate your credit score. As you apply for more loans, open credit accounts, and borrow money throughout your life, each credit bureau will update your credit score accordingly.

What Impacts Score?

This section will cover the major factors that impact your credit score. Here are the five most significant:

Payment History

Accounting for up to 35 percent of your credit score

This is the most important factor, accounting for up to 35 percent of your credit score. This is what shows your ability to pay loans on time and includes:

The number of accounts that you have paid on time

The accounts that you are at least 30 days behind on with payments

Any instances of bankruptcy, past-due account collections or falling behind on a personal loan or line of credit at least 30 days

The number of days you are past due on a delinquent account

The amount past due for delinquent accounts and accounts sent to collections

Total Amount Owed

The total amount you owe to lenders makes up roughly 30 percent of your credit score. This amount shows the sustainability of your spending and can predict potential financial problems later on.

Your total debt includes:




Credit utilization ratio compares to the amount of credit you use to the total amount of credit you have. Generally, the lower the number on these factors, the better your score.

Length of Your Credit History

Having a long history of good credit makes for more accurate and predictable borrowing compared to a few months of fair to middling credit. Keep in mind that creditors usually use your open accounts’ average age or the age of your oldest open account, not the age of your first-ever account.

Types of Credit Accounts

This shows that you have a diverse mix of accounts and how recently you used them. Having credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, car loans, and student loans shows a more well-rounded borrowing history than having just a handful of credit card accounts.

New Credit

New credit factors into about 10 percent of your score, which refers to the number of new accounts you've applied for or opened recently. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with opening a new line of credit, opening or applying for too many accounts at once can show that you are desperate for more credit, which is usually a red flag.

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Chapter 4

Types of Credit Scores

Now that we’ve explored credit scores and how they're used, let's dig a little deeper into the different types of credit scores you might come across. There are currently two major types of credit score:

The Fair Isaac Corporation, also known as FICO, introduced their credit score model over 25 years ago. It is presently the industry leader for credit scoring within the United States. The score was the first of its kind that financial institutions and other lenders could utilize to gain insight regarding the people they would potentially lend and distribute their funds to.

FICO is the most recognizable credit scoring brand

Today, FICO is the most recognizable credit scoring brand. In fact, many financial institutions use “FICO score” and “credit score” interchangeably. 

In reality, your FICO score is just one type of credit generated by a proprietary formula. General FICO guidelines show:

Scores of 800 or above are considered exceptional credit.

Scores from 740 to 799 are considered very good credit.

scores between 670 and 739 are considered good  credit.

score between 580 and 669 are considered fair credit.

anything lower than 580 is considered poor credit.

FICO scores are reportedly used for at least 90 percent of lending decisions. They are favored exclusively for home mortgages through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other government-sponsored home lending entities. If you are having trouble with your score, here are some tips on how to increase your FICO score.

Although FICO scores are the predominant favorite in the world of credit scores, VantageScore, another credit reporting model, is gradually gaining traction among lenders and consumers. It is seen as favorable because the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) created it collaboratively.

A goal of VantageScore is to expand the number of people who can receive credit scores

A goal of VantageScore is to expand the number of people who can receive credit scores to include college students, immigrants, and other individuals who might not use credit frequently. 

While VantageScore and FICO both use the factors listed above, they employ different analytics and unique algorithms to determine your credit score. While previous versions had ranges of 501 to 990, the current VantageScore model uses the same 300 to 850 range as FICO with some small differences.

A VantageScore of 781 to 850 is considered excellent.

A score of 661 to 780 is a good score.

Credit ranging from 661 to 660 is considered fair.

A score from 500 to 600 is poor.

A score of 300 to 499 is considered very poor.

New Credit Scoring Versions

It is also important to note that both FICO and VantageScore have released new versions of their credit score formulas due to evolving lender credit-granting requirements, overall demand for credit, and consumer credit use. Currently, the most used FICO version is FICO® Score 8. There are several unique features included in FICO® Score 8 such as high credit card usage, isolated late payments, authorized user credit, and more.

The latest version of VantageScore is VantageScore 4.0. It uses machine learning and incorporates trended credit data newly available from all three credit bureaus. Ultimately, both FICO and VantageScore updates help lenders make more informed and fair decisions.

Chapter 5

How is Credit Reported?

A credit report displays a summary of your credit accounts, including your payment history and other information reported to credit bureaus from lenders and financial institutions. Credit reports come from the three major credit bureaus, and your reports from each may not be the same.

Potential creditors and lenders can request a credit report (with your consent) to decide whether to provide you with a loan or extend your credit line. Utility companies can also check your credit report for insurance reasons, as can potential employers and other interested parties.

Credit Scores vs. Credit Reports

While credit scores and credit reports are intrinsically linked, they are not the same or interchangeable. Your credit score is a single number denoting your creditworthiness.

Credit reports are much more comprehensive, showing:


your personal information

Details on each of your accounts

Any inquiry information, including both soft and hard inquiries

Unfavorable information (bankruptcies, repossessions, past-due collections)

Think of your credit report as an in-depth look at your credit, while your score is a simple summation of all your credit.

Think of your credit report as an in-depth look at your credit, while your score is a simple summation of all your credit. Lenders will often look at both to make their decisions.

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Chapter 6

How to Improve Your Credit Score

New to Credit

If you are new to credit and trying to build your credit score, you may be surprised to find that improving your rating is relatively easy. Start with a simple credit card. Use the card normally, but make sure not to exceed 30 percent of the total to ensure a good credit utilization ratio. Above all, make sure that you pay your credit card on time.

Another way to boost your credit score is to apply for and successfully pay off a credit-building loan. This particular type of loan is designed entirely to build your credit score, allowing you to be a more financially stable and reliable individual in the eyes of a banking institution or lender.

How does this all work? Just follow these simple steps:

1) Apply for a Possible credit building loan

2) Repay your Possible loan on-time

3) Possible reports your payments to Experian and TransUnion

4) Watch your credit score increase!

Borrow a quick loan and when you repay the loan, you build your credit history.

Unlike other loans, the money you pay your lender for a credit-building loan goes into a savings account. At the end of the loan term, you receive the money you put in and the lender reports your payments to the credit bureaus. Other credit-building loans, like the one created by Possible, allow you to borrow money upfront and build your credit history as you repay it. These loans have very competitive APRs — and if you are struggling to pay them off, you can extend your payment up to 29 days with no fees.

Starting from Bad Credit

Start by paying off your bills, existing loans, and credit card debit.

A bad credit score can be discouraging, but it’s not impossible to raise that score. Start by paying off your bills, existing loans, and credit card debt. This tactic gives you a clean slate while also gradually helping to improve your credit.

From there, you can consider a credit building loan of the sort mentioned above or get a secured credit card. A secured credit card requires a refundable security deposit. The issuing entity holds the security deposit as collateral until you close the account, which reduces the risk for banks and credit unions. Possible considers every individual’s financial situation, offering credit building loans to many people with poor credit or a shorter credit history. 

Starting from Good Credit

Consider applying for a credit limit increase.

If you already have good credit, keep it up! Consider applying for a credit limit increase, which can help to lower your credit utilization ratio and improve your credit score. Avoid closing any credit cards.

Even if you don’t use it, closing a credit card essentially removes that credit amount, increasing your overall credit card utilization and possibly contributing to a lower score.

Avoid closing any credit cards

Understanding how credit scores work can be tricky initially, but much of it comes down to common sense. Pay your bills on time, don’t max out credit cards, and maintain healthy credit habits.

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