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A FICO credit score can determine a very large number of decisions in your life.  Where you live, what you drive, where you work and where you and or your kids go to school can depend on a 3-digit magic number.   The range of scores begins at 300, for the individuals in life that have declared bankruptcy 13 times in a month, and ends with a perfect score at 850, where banks pay you to borrow their money (Well, not really).  A perfect or near perfect credit score belongs to an elite few. According to myFICO.com, about 13% of FICO scores fall in the range of 800+, while only about 1% have a perfect FICO score of 850.  If you’re wondering what a good credit score is, that is generally anything over 700.

So what do the credit files of an individual with a perfect credit score look like? Although the FICO formula is a well kept secret, with enough data we can stitch together what it takes to achieve a 800+ FICO score. A FICO credit score is generated based primarily on five criteria outlined below.

FICO Credit Score

We took this information and scoured the Internet for information on what it takes to achieve perfection. With the data in hand, let’s take a look at this factors and how each of them can help you achieve an excellent credit score.

Payment History – 35%

It’s extremely important to pay your bills on time.  While most creditors won’t report a late payment unless it is 30 days past due, there could be exceptions that even if you are a few days late you could be reported to the credit bureau.  Usually there are four breakdowns of late payments:  30, 60, 90 and 120+ days late can hurt your credit score for years, so do your best to make at least the minimum payments on time each month.

  • A perfect credit score would show, on average, no late payments in the last 7 years on any debt
  • A credit score of 800+ generally will show no late payments over the past four years

More articles to help you improve your credit score:
Get your Credit Score for Free
How to Improve Your FICO Score–11 Steps
How Your Credit Score Affects Your Finances

Amounts Owed – 30%

Just because you have access to debt does not mean you should gobble up as much as you can and as fast as you can.  A large chunk of your FICO score is based on the amount of money you owe to your debtors compared to the total amount of available credit you have. Known as “utilization,” this is simply the ratio of your debt to credit limit. For example, a credit card with a $5,000 balance and a $10,000 credit limit would have a utilization of 50% (5,000 / 10,000). Thus, maxing out your credit cards will lower your credit score.  The smart move would be to have 30% or less of your credit limit used. The FICO formula also looks at the number of accounts with balances, proportion of installment loan (e.g., card loan or school loan) amounts still owed, and amount owed on specific types of accounts (e.g., revolving credit, installment loans).

  • For revolving accounts (e.g., credit cards), those with a perfect credit score typically have a very low utilization rate of less than 10%.
  • For installment loans, high credit scores typically go to those who have paid down at least 35% of the original balance.

Length of Credit History – 15%

Good things get better with age, and your credit score is no exception.  It’s very difficult for a young professional to have a super high credit score because they only recently began opening credit accounts and borrowing money.

  • Those with perfect credit opened their first account on average nearly 20 years ago.
  • The average account age was as much as 12 years, and 10 years of positive history is generally required to get a credit score above 800.

New Credit – 10%

How often in the last 24 months have you applied for credit and been denied?  If the answer is a lot, then you’re credit score is on the way down.  Applying for credit consistently shows that you probably need the money ASAP, which tells borrowers that you’re a risky investment.  Sometimes, applying for multiple lines of credit is necessary, for example if you were looking for a good credit card offer.

  • A perfect credit score should have no more than 2 inquires over the last 24 months.
  • Many with perfect credit have had no inquires in the last 12 months
  • Credit scores look at the types of accounts opened, and those with high credit typically have a demonstrated history of using different types of accounts responsibly

Types of Credit Used – 10%

When you think of a diversified portfolio, you probably think of stocks and mutual funds. This ideology should also be applied to your credit.  Having different types of debts is again viewed as responsible and if possible, should be utilized.  Credit Cards, Retail Accounts, Installment Loans, Mortgages and Consumer Finance Accounts are just a few examples of the types of credit the FICO score will evaluate.

  • Those with a perfect credit score typically have about six accounts currently paid as agreed
  • While there is not a set number of open accounts, too many accounts can eventually bring down your score

Don’t be discouraged if your score isn’t where you want it to be right now.  Set a few small short term goals and make sure to check your credit score often to follow your progress.  There’s a limitless number of free trials available out there that will allow you to check your credit score for free. Here are two great ways to get your credit score for free:

  1. Credit Karma offers a free credit monitoring service that makes it easy to access your scores and credit reports at any time.
  2. Another options is Experian. You get your Experian credit report and FICO score when you sign up for Experian’s Score Tracker. You get a 7-day free trial.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 158
After amassing more than $255,000 in debt on a math degree from the University of Miami, Michael now enjoys spending time at home and writing about personal finance.

Article comments


Now this is an article I am going to bookmark!

When you talk about diversification of credit sources, are there any that are more important to the credit firms? For instance, is it weighted more heavily to have a good history on mortgages, credit cards or car loans, or are they all weighted the same?

Clf says:

Notice how important paying our bills on time is here.This is why we always pay our bills the same day they come to our mailbox.

Curtis says:

Trying to get a perfect credit score is counterproductive, especially if it means having two or fewer inquiries on your report. The whole point of having a good score is to be able to use it to get cheap credit. To get apply for credit, you have to have inquiries. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should apply for every credit card/loan/whatever just because you can, but there’s also no point in limiting the number of inquiries on your report simply to have a “perfect” score.

It’s also pointless because the difference between credit offers for people 750 scores and people with 850 scores is minimal (when it even exists). At about 750-780, you’re going to get the best credit offers from banks. Anything above that is extraneous.


Leslie says:

This sounds wonderful, but what really is a bummer, to the point of being outright criminal is this insane notion that we should have credit cards with open balances in the first place. I’ve been diligently striving to eliminate as much debt as I can for over four years now and as the debt goes so does the credit score. I’m actually being penalized big time for clearing my debts. Now how is that anything but wrong?

KDB says:

@ Leslie, good point, but credit is designed for borrowing money so you need to show responsible handling of credit to get a good credit score. I hear from so many people with debt who are hesitant to take action for fear of hurting their “good credit”, which is misguided. When did your credit score become some type of trophy?

Chris says:

My home mortgage was paid off within 5 years of buying the home, I paid cash for my cars, I have NEVER been late on any payment or bill and have only a Visa Card, a Target card, a Macey’s and a Kohl’s card and pay the total balance every month. Zero debt. I’m 45 years old with what I would consider to be a perfect credit history: My credit rate was only 758 That doesn’t seem nearly high enough.

Sherilyn says:

Give it lots and lots of time, honestly! And make sure that mortgage is shown as “PAID” and still available on all your reports! Also make sure there’s no negative information on your reports nor too many credit inquiries within a short amount of time. Those things could keep it low. Make sure that a balance is ALWAYS recorded on your cards (for example, before paying a bill in full, make sure there’s a pending amount or current charge ready for the next month so that whenever the bureaus pull your information, there’s something more than $0!) Keep utilization under 20% (ideally under 10%) and your score will keep soaring!

J.B. says:

Good explanation of FICO. Thank you for posting this article.

Josh says:

I was not aware the applying for credit and getting rejected more than once affect future credit score. It’s a vicious circle, when you think about it.

Warren says:

Im a 21 year old still wet behind the ears credit wise, I do have a score of 730, but I was wondering if I open, lets say, a gas card and a major credit card within 6 months of each other and use them sparingly. Maybe out of a credit limet of $1500 I use $95 and the gas card. I use $75 out of $1000 and do this monthly would it hurt me or build my credit faster.