You’ve done your research, managed your money well, and you know that a credit score is an essential tool on your financial journey. Did you also know it's possible to get a “perfect” credit score?
A perfect score is achievable, but only a small percentage of the population — just 1.2% according to a 2019 Experian Report — can say they’ve reached that accomplishment.
But even if your financial journey is just starting, there are simple ways you can take charge and make moves to boost your credit. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about the fabled perfect credit score and how you might set yourself up to get there.
What is a perfect credit score?
So how do credit scores work and how long does it take to get a perfect credit score?
A perfect FICO credit score is 850. That's the highest credit score you can get, but scores between 800-850 are all considered exceptional. As long as your score is 800-plus, you’ll be more likely to qualify for the best interest rates, whether your score is 830 or 849.
Having exceptional credit could also improve your employment opportunities, help you cut your insurance premiums, and make it easier to lease an apartment or buy a house.
Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, you still might not achieve that elusive 850, but you can probably still get your score pretty high. And moving from a bad credit score to a good credit score could still help you qualify for a lower interest rate or have a better shot at being approved for one of the best credit cards.
How to get a perfect credit score
The FICO score system is the most commonly used of the credit scoring models, and its scores range from 300 to 850. Although you can pursue a perfect 850 and make getting as close as possible to it a game, creditors tend to look at the range you fall into, rather than the specific score.
Knowing how your score gets calculated can help you figure out the best ways to raise it:
1. Have a spotless payment history.
Paying your bills on time is one of the key components of how to manage your money. Not only does it keep you from accruing late fees, but it’s also the most significant thing you can do to improve your credit score.
Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO score, which means it’s the largest contributor to a perfect score. Late payments on your credit report could indicate you’re a credit risk and might tank your score. Although late payments do eventually drop off your credit history, it takes seven years for that to happen.
Don’t panic if you’ve missed a payment. A late credit card payment won’t be reported to the credit bureaus as long as you take care of the payment immediately, though you will probably have to pay a late fee. Payments aren’t delinquent (i.e., show up on your credit report) until you’ve missed an entire 30-day billing cycle, so make sure you make a forgotten payment as quickly as possible.
If you have a late payment appear on your credit report, it’s worth calling the credit card company or lender to explain the situation. Ask to have it forgiven and removed from your report (though there’s no guarantee this will work if the late fee is legitimate).
Then, set up autopay for each of your monthly bills to know you are automatically paying the minimum balance due every month.
2. Have a mix of credit
Using different credit products could help you improve your credit score because it shows potential lenders that you can handle credit responsibly and are likely to pay back what you borrow. Different types of credit products include credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, personal loans, and even student loans.
Your credit mix accounts for about 10% of your credit score, so it’s worth being strategic about how you approach applying for any new accounts. If you think about your finances, you probably have a car loan, a student loan, and maybe even a personal loan, along with a couple of credit cards, and these are a good mix of credit accounts for most people.
If you’re young and just starting, having student loans can help you establish a credit history, which influences your credit score, especially as you maintain a record of on-time payments.
3. Have a long credit history
You may have heard that closing a credit card you aren’t using could lower your credit score. It can be true, and that’s because it primarily affects your length of credit history.
Having a long history with credit makes you more appealing to lenders and shows that you responsibly manage your debt. If you close a card you’ve had for years, you lower your average age of accounts, which makes up 15% of your credit score. The older the payment history in your report, the more it can boost your score.
For example, if you close a 20-year-old credit card and the rest of your accounts were opened in the past five to 10 years, that would mean you cut your credit payment history by up to half.
Although it will take a while for the closed card to fall off your report — if the account was in good standing, that history will remain for 10 years. If you had any late payments, those would continue to show for seven years — it's still best not to close an account you’ve had for years. Instead, use the card periodically so the credit card company doesn’t shut it down for you due to lack of activity.
4. Have a high credit limit and a low balance
30% of your score is how much credit you use in relation to the amount of credit available to you, also known as your credit utilization ratio. Dividing your total balance due by the total amount of your credit limit calculates your utilization ratio.
It’s important to note that this ratio is only calculated based on your revolving credit (i.e., your credit cards). A student or vehicle loan, or a mortgage, are considered installment loans and are factored into your score differently.
As we think about how to get a perfect credit score, financial experts tend to recommend that you keep your credit utilization rate below 30% of your available credit. There’s no hard and fast rule, so it's best to keep it as low as possible.
For example, if you have $20,000 in total available credit across all your credit cards and have a balance of $3,000, you’re using 15% of your available credit (3,000 / 20,000 = 15). Because you’re under the 30% threshold, you show lenders you may be a good financial bet.
If we take the same $20,000 total credit limit, but now you’re carrying a balance of $10,000, you’re using 50% of your available credit, which may make your credit score go down. Making debt reduction a priority in this example may help your score improve.
If you are carrying a credit card balance, prioritize paying it off and consider calling your credit card company to ask for a credit limit increase.
5. Have a low amount of inquiries
When a lender performs a hard credit inquiry — as opposed to a soft credit check as you’d have for your utilities or an apartment lease — it could also affect your score. Most times that you apply for credit, the lender performs a hard inquiry on one or more of your credit reports.
Hard inquiries (also called a hard pull) only make up about 10% of your FICO score, but depending on the other factors we’ve discussed, they could have a more significant impact than you’d think. Be strategic and think long term before applying for new credit cards.
For example, if you apply for several credit cards within the same two- to three-month period, that will result in multiple hard pulls on your credit report, and your score may decrease. Each pull could lower your score by as much as five points, depending on other credit score factors. The higher your credit score, the less harm a hard pull is likely to have.
Remember, companies pulling your report are trying to determine your creditworthiness. They use your credit report and credit score to determine whether or how much to lend you and at what interest rate.
If you’re applying for a loan, any hard inquiry related to rate-shopping within 30 days of your application won’t affect your score for that application. And, if it's been more than 30 days since you completed your rate-shopping, inquiries made within a 14- to 45-day period will count as one inquiry depending on the scoring model. This does not apply to credit cards, and each card application will result in a hard pull.
On your path to 850, check your credit report
Identity theft is a genuine concern these days, especially if you have a high credit score (around 750 to 850). Keep an eye on your score and any new activity on your report, or consider using tools like Experian Boost or Credit Karma, which include a version of your credit score and limited credit monitoring features as part of their overall service.
Check out our comparison of Credit Sesame vs. Credit Karma for more details on these services.
Wherever you are on your financial journey, it’s a good idea to check your credit report regularly. You can check your report for free once every 12 months from the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Rather than reviewing them simultaneously, stagger your check-ins throughout the year, checking one every quarter.
Note that as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit bureaus will allow you to pull a free credit report once a week through April 2022.
As you get closer to an excellent credit score, you’ll probably start checking to see whether the numbers change every time you make a payment or even to just give yourself a little pick-me-up on a hard day.
Although a little check is fun and exciting, make sure you don’t become obsessive about it. Your credit score is just a number and has no bearing on your worth as a human being, so if you’re not where you want to be yet, don’t let it bring you down.
How long does it take to get a perfect credit score?
Although there’s no set time frame, if you have an established credit history, make all your payments on time, and strategically plan for credit utilization, you might be on your way to an exceptional score and even be able to hit that elusive 850. It will take longer to reach 800 and above for someone with no credit history or a history of delinquent payments, but it could be possible if you make a focused effort.
Does anyone have an 850 credit score?
Yes, but it’s a tiny percentage of the population. According to a 2019 Experian Report, 1.2% of all FICO scores are 850. Fifty-eight percent of that small amount are baby boomers, but Generation X and millennials are also represented at 25% and 4%, respectively.
What can a credit score of 800 get me?
A credit score of 800 is considered exceptional, but it will likely get you the same interest rates on loans and mortgages as a score of 850. Lenders look at the score range, so they don’t distinguish between 800 or 850 when considering your credit applications. Although 850 is a fun number to strive for, anything above 800 will get you considered for the same interest rates and products.
A credit score of 800 and above is an accomplishment and some people like to make it a personal finance goal. Certainly, if you get to 850, take a screenshot and celebrate. Your actions influence your score significantly, but there are some things you just can’t account for.
If you get to a score at or above 800, you’ve done a great job and it shouldn’t make a difference in the interest rates lenders offer you.