Three out of five.
That's the number of Americans who don't know their credit scores, according to LendingTree research.
The likely reason why that number is so high is that many people don't understand that improving their credit scores is a long-term investment in their financial well being. The truth is, people with good credit can cut their expenses by large amounts, whether it's securing low mortgage rates, more favorable car loans, or even qualifying for the best credit card sign-up bonuses.
With this in mind, the Motley Fool's deputy managing editor, Michael Douglass, and our credit card expert, Nathan Hamilton, discuss trends for the average American's credit score in the video below. How does your score compare? (Do you even know?)
Plus, they discussion the two crucial factors that determine the majority of your FICO score, and the most powerful moves you can take to give your score a boost.
Michael Douglass: Nathan, let's talk about the average American's credit score. Can you tell me the average American's credit score?
Nathan Hamilton: I can with somewhat [of] a bit of confidence.
Douglass: With a bit of a caveat.
Hamilton: Yes, because there's research out there. All of [the results] generally vary anywhere from 685 to 700-plus, but when we look at it, an average American credit score, it's just below 700.
Douglass: Got you. OK, that's good to know.
Hamilton: Average FICO score, I should say.
Douglass: Average FICO.
Hamilton: Because there are a number of [credit scores].
Douglass: Right, absolutely. So let's talk about why credit scores are important, thinking about that within the lens of broader credit.
Hamilton: Well, simply put, it's the most important financial number in your life ... a three-digit financial number.
Hamilton: Maybe their retirement numbers.
Douglass: Well, Social Security is pretty important.
Hamilton: It essentially determines, as a borrower, what rates you're going to get, what money you're going to be able to borrow for a loan, for a mortgage, anything. So for the most part, we don't pay cash for anything [big] nowadays. You need to borrow at some point in your life, and that's going to be impacted by what your FICO score is.
Douglass: Absolutely. So if someone checks their credit score...
Douglass: ...and they find that it's below average, average, above average -- really anything but perfect -- what are a couple of quick, easy ways to improve it?
Hamilton: So two of the most important. One is pay on time. Easy. Second is keep your credit utilization below 30%. Ideal is 10%. When I say credit utilization, it's just a matter of what's your available credit versus how much you actually are borrowing. So if you've got a $1,000 credit limit, you want to be below $300 to get a good FICO score [and] below $100 to get the best.
And really when it comes down to it, paying on time -- 35% of your score is impacted by your payment history, 30% is affected by your credit utilization. Those two factors combined are 65% of your credit score [and] the two biggest, single factors that you can fix to improve your credit score. To get above 800. If you're establishing a credit history, those are the things you want to focus on.
The other ones shouldn't be ignored -- absolutely not -- but if you want to make the most gains for the least amount of time, that's where you should focus.
Douglass: So you'll get your best return investment of time and...
Douglass: ...as we say around here, time is, in fact, money.
Hamilton: It is.
Douglass: Absolutely. Well, cool. You know, we've got a lot of great credit score and credit card information at fool.com/creditcards, so be sure to check us out, there. We've got a free guide on credit scores and then also The Motley Fool's top picks for credit cards in 2017.
Douglass: So a lot of good content there. A lot of good information. Be sure to check us out there. Thanks, Nathan.
Hamilton: Absolutely. Thanks.
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