Category Archives: High Scorers

Harder to raise score from 832 to 850 than you might think

This post originally appeared March 1, 2018 on as “Why can’t I reach a perfect credit score of 850 points?

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
My credit scores generally run from 825 to 832, but appear to ding from the utilization percentage on my cards.

I carry no balance forward ever, using and paying my primary reward card in full every month. I also use a couple other cards and always pay in full just to keep active.

I have 40-plus years of never missing a payment on anything, two mortgages paid in full, auto loans always paid off early, and I still can’t seem to get it any higher than 832. Am I doing anything wrong?  – Mike

Dear Mike,
Yours is a good problem to have. Should you be successful at raising your score above 832, that’s great.

If not, and you’re forced to live with scores in the 825-to-832 range – well, that’s great, too. In fact, with scores that high, why even care, let alone obsess, about a perfect score?

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Leave 1% balance on 1 card, $0 on all others for higher score

This post originally appeared February 23, 2017 on as “‘Tips for getting a big score boost when paying maxed-out cards

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
Hello! I have a question that I’ve searched for an answer, but I cannot get clear direction. I have four cards that are all maxed out: Discover ($200), Amazon ($730), Bank of America ($1,000) and Capital One ($500). I have one installment loan with $725 of $1,000 remaining. My FICO is at 649, and I am trying to get to 670 for top tier rate at a credit union for auto purchase.

Today I paid off three of four cards, so at statement time they will show $0. I will also do the same for the installment loan and remaining card. Therefore, cards and installments will all show $0. My question is will this be effective for a decent boost this month? Or should I leave small balances on them to show activity?

I have read I should use them and pay them off in small amounts, but I also understand that the trigger is what’s reported to the bureau at statement closing each month. So I am not certain whether the $0 balance has a greater impact for a score boost or do I need to charge $20 or so on the cards before statement closing? Thanks. – Jeff

Dear Jeff,
What’s best: a $0 or small balance left on that last remaining unpaid card? Regardless of how you apply those last payments, which we will discuss, going from 100 percent credit utilization to 0 percent or so on those cards, your score should easily see that 21-point boost you’re looking for. And you should see it within the 30 days or so it takes for new balances to report to the credit bureaus.

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7 quick ways to a better credit score

This post originally appeared January 5, 2017 on as “7 steps: Clean up your credit by spring

By Barry Paperno

New home or other major purchase coming up this spring? If so, the time to start shaping up your credit score is now. Unlike slimming down at the gym, a buffed score doesn’t have to cost anything or even require getting up from the sofa.

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Raise score by paying all but 1 or 2 cards before closing date

This post originally appeared October 13, 2016 on as “Small balance shows you use credit, helping your score

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
Do I keep my credit card balance zero or keep some on there to increase my credit score? – Monica

Dear Monica,
Your question is a good one, as it touches on some lesser known and often contradictory calculations within the “amounts owed” credit scoring category that makes up 30 percent of your score.

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How to raise a high score? Don’t look to reason codes

This post originally appeared January 21, 2016 on as “Automated credit score advice may not fit

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
I keep on top of my credit, so I was happy to see more of my credit cards give some type of free credit score, and free advice on how to improve my credit. But now I have to question whether it’s accurate information. I was just checking my credit score on USAA and clicked on what they said was hurting my scores and this was one reason: “The largest credit limit among all the open bank card or revolving accounts in your credit file is low. Having higher limits gives you access to credit without seeking new loans or becoming overextended — which are triggers for higher risk.”

I have a credit score in the 800s, at least two cards with credit limits more than $20,000, and while I use my cards routinely to earn rewards, I always pay them off monthly. I thought that credit limits didn’t come into play unless you used them, but this advice is saying high credit limits by themselves improve credit scores. So I don’t think the credit-improvement advice they’re giving is accurate. Do you agree? Do high credit limits, by themselves, improve credit scores? — Julie

Dear Julie,
First, let’s start by noting that the score and explanation you received appear to have come from the VantageScore credit scoring formula used by USAA and many other consumer websites. The source of this automated information is noteworthy here because your situation provides an example of how different credit scoring models can not only produce different scores, but different — and often conflicting — pieces of score-raising advice.

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Trying to get to the ‘800 Club’ or bust

This post originally appeared October 22, 2015 on as “Maxed-out card blocks entry to 800 credit score ‘club‘“

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
My goal is to get to the 800 Club or die trying (ha-ha, I’m 66). My situation:

  1. I had a FICO score of 760-plus, then it went down.
  2. I applied for multiple cards to get their cash bonuses and 0 APR on a balance transfer.
  3. I have a balance on only one card — it has a 0 percent APR, the credit line is $12,000 but I owe them $11,200. All other cards are paid off but open.
  4. I now use only my Wells Fargo card and have just set up the account to pay in full monthly.

My question: Should I close credit card accounts that I am SURE I will never use again and just use the one Wells Fargo card I pay in full each month? I have a mortgage history of 10 years. There are no late charges on any accounts I have per my free FICO I looked at. Finally the one card I have chosen to keep (Wells Fargo) has been opened the longest but I didn’t use it while it was open and now I am using it and as stated paying in full each month. Thanks for your help in getting me to 800! — Garry

Dear Garry,
Fortunately, most credit management strategies that lead to high scores, such as paying on time and keeping card balances low, are also the ones most likely to save you money. Yet, there are also a couple of situations — such as maxing out a 0 percent APR card and closing cards you don’t use — where the best money-saving strategy isn’t the most effective credit-score-raising move.

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Give new card openings a rest for a FICO high achiever score

This post originally appeared December 18, 2014, on as “How many cards is too many?

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
Does having too many credit cards adversely affect one’s credit score? I understand that the credit score also depends on the total number of accounts. I already have six credit cards, out of which I got five within the last two years, and I just applied for a seventh one. Although I did get approved, now I’m thinking that maybe it was not a very good idea to apply in the first place. So is seven credit cards way too many? And is it a bad thing to have too many credit cards? — Ayesha

Dear Ayesha,
Not only can having too many credit cards adversely affect your credit score, having too few cards can also hurt your score. And what’s even more confusing, the number of cards the score may consider as being too many this month could be too few next month. What’s a consumer who’s simply trying to protect her good credit score to do? No. 1, don’t worry. I’ll tell you why.

While you haven’t told us your credit score, it can be assumed that your score has remained at least high enough to repeatedly generate new account approvals, despite the likelihood that those new card openings aren’t doing a lot to help your score. More than anything, the fact that you have opened six new cards in two years tells me is that you must be faithfully making your payments on time each month and that you are in full control of your credit card usage. Just these two practices alone are enough to ensure a good score, regardless of any other lesser factors, such as the number of new account openings and cards.

To answer your question about whether seven cards is too many, the best information I can give you comes from the FICO high achiever statistics, an analysis by the credit scoring giant into the habits and attributes of approximately 50 million U.S. consumers who score above 785. FICO scores range from 300 to 850.

Using these statistics I have some good news for you: On average, FICO high achievers tend to have (drumroll, please) seven cards! This includes open and closed cards, and accounts carrying and not carrying balances. Additionally, these high achievers have an average of four credit cards or loans with balances, which tells us that, while it’s good to have seven cards, you should only owe on up to four — not all — of them.

Unfortunately, one area where your experiences don’t coincide with those of the high achievers, but provides some insight into an aspect of your credit profile that can use some improvement, is in a set of statistics indicating that FICO high achievers have a lengthy, well-established, credit history and seldom open new accounts. On average, their oldest credit account was opened 25 years ago with their most recent credit account averaging 28 months old. Overall, their average credit account is 11 years old.

This is where the message should be loud and clear that it’s time to give that accelerated card opening strategy of the past two years a rest. Simply maintain and manage the cards you have, while continuing to do what you’ve been doing — paying on time each month and keeping a low credit utilization percentage (individual and combined card balance/limit percentage) on any cards with balances.

As for your follow-up question of whether having too many cards is a bad thing, it’s important to understand that any scoring calculations that look at how many of a particular type of account you have fall within the “types of credit” category that makes up only about 10 percent of your score. This means that, while it’s good to have the “right” number of cards, this number weighs very little within your score when compared to the factors comprising the three most important categories — payment history (35 percent), amounts owed (30 percent) and length of credit history (15 percent). Those latter three together amount to 80 percent of your score. And, as we’ve discussed, you appear to be managing the first two quite well, and now have a plan to improve the third.

I hope you’ll come away from this discussion feeling good about the way you’ve been managing your credit, not only from owning the same number of cards as the high achievers, but more importantly, from being able to achieve a score high enough to gain multiple card approvals within just the past two years. Now, going forward, if you can resist the temptation to apply for or accept any offers for additional cards during the next two years, your “length of time since your most recent account opening” statistic will fall right in line with the high achiever number of 28 months — and you’ll be well on your way to your own high achiever FICO score. Keep up the good work!

Have a question or comment?  Let’s hear it!