FICO credit scores can range from as low as 300 to as high as 850. That said, for people who always pay their monthly bills and manage their debts wisely, getting a credit score of 800 or better is just a matter of time.
But what does a 800 credit score actually mean when it comes to loans, credit cards, or your credit limits? Here's the rundown.
What a credit score above 800 really means
To have a credit score over 800, it means that you have probably always paid your accounts on time in the last seven years, the point where some information is no longer taken into consideration when calculating your score. Getting a score above 800 puts you in rather elite company, enabling you to qualify for the best terms on loans and secure the best interest rates.
Only about 21% of people who have a credit score achieve 800 or higher. The "average" FICO score is around 700, so people with 800 scores are well above the average borrower.
As a general rule of thumb, scores above 720 are generally referred to as being "prime scores." A so-called super-prime score above 760 or 780 will typically net you the best possible terms on mortgages or car loans.
Why a 800+ score is ideal
It's hard to quantify just how much a credit score of 800 or more is worth in terms of dollars and cents. But if you plan on ever financing a home, car, or any other major purchase, it's safe to say that having an 800 score is worth thousands of dollars, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars, over the course of your life.
- Mortgages: This is the big one. A home is the single largest purchase most people will ever make. Having an 800 score easily puts you in line to get the best possible interest rate, which was recently 4% on a 30-year mortgage. On the median home price of roughly $200,000, the difference of having a good score and a bad one can easily add up to $300 per month due to the difference in interest rates. (For current interest rates by location and credit score, see Fool.com's Mortgage Center.)
- Car loans: With an 800 score, you're far and away qualified for the best terms on auto financing. You'll qualify for rates of 2%-4% on used cars and likely get 0% financing offered by auto manufacturers should you choose to buy new. Be smart, though, as being able to buy a costlier car doesn't necessarily mean that you should.
- Credit cards: Card issuers basically pay people with 800 credit scores to open an account. Some of the best cards for people with excellent credit offer new cardholder bonuses worth $500 or more in cash or travel. Even no-annual-fee cards will pay you handsomely with sign-up bonuses of $200 or more. You'll easily qualify for cards that have the highest cash-back rates, travel rewards, and lowest APRs, too.
What it doesn't mean
It's important to remember that a good credit score is a reflection of your ability to pay your bills on time and only borrow what you can afford to repay. It doesn't mean that a bank will give you a mortgage worth 10 times your annual income (they won't) or that you can always qualify for any loan (your income matters, too!).
It doesn't necessarily mean that your finances are in good shape, either. To be sure, there are likely millions of people who have scores above 800 while living paycheck to paycheck. This group of people has always paid their bills on time in the past, but they would struggle to keep current on their accounts if they experienced a large financial emergency or job loss.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do with a 800 credit score is do everything you can to keep it. Build up an emergency fund equal to three months or more income to protect you in the event you lose your job or encounter a large unexpected expense. And try to always live on less than you earn as a matter of practice -- stashing a portion of your paycheck by making automatic deposits into a savings account or retirement plan can be a good way to save money without feeling like you're cutting too deep.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.