How I Got a Perfect Credit Score

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on Sept. 3, 2020

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A woman sitting at a cafe table with tea and a laptop and holding out her credit card.

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There was a time when I actually had perfect credit. Here's how I pulled it off.

I was never really aware of the concept of a credit score until I applied for my first apartment in my early 20s. At the time, I'd heard of credit scores, but I couldn't have told you how they were calculated or what the numbers really meant. Still, I knew I managed my money and bills responsibly. So, when I agreed to a credit check as part of that apartment application process, I was confident things would work out okay.

To my surprise, the property manager informed me that my score was, in fact, a perfect score. In other words, my score was an 850 -- the highest it can possibly be. And here are the reasons why.

1. I paid every bill on time

Of the different factors that go into your credit score, your payment history carries the most weight, and it speaks to your tendency to pay your bills on time. I'm proud to say that I've always done this -- paid my bills by the time they were due. And that was a huge factor in getting perfect credit.

2. I never carried a credit card balance

Though I applied for my first credit card when I was a college student and didn't have much of an income, I always managed it responsibly. Specifically, I never racked up a balance, and instead paid every credit card bill in full. That, in turn, helped me keep my credit utilization ratio in favorable territory. Your credit utilization ratio is a measure of how much of your available credit you are using, and a ratio above 30% can hurt your score. Since I never ran up a balance, mine was as low as you can get.

3. I hadn't applied for new credit cards for a long time

Applying for a number of new credit cards or loans at once can hurt your credit score. When I was trying to get that apartment, it had been several years since I'd applied for a new card or taken out a loan, so that helped me get that 850.

4. I was an authorized user on a long-standing account

The length of your credit history is another factor that goes into determining your credit score. At that point, I was in my early 20s and I'd only had my own credit card for about five years. However, when I went off to college, my parents had added me as an authorized user on their credit card for emergencies. While I never used it, it also meant that their credit account, which was probably in good standing for a solid 20 years, was attached to my credit report as well. As such, I had an advantage over many other people my age.

Is perfect credit really necessary?

To be clear, just because my credit score was perfect when I applied for that apartment doesn't mean it's perfect today. While my credit is still strong, in the past few years I've applied for other credit cards and loans, and that alone has caused my score to drop ever so slightly. I also had to close a long-standing credit card account, which impacted the length of my credit history, so that also hit my score.

But while my credit score may no longer be perfect, the reality is that it doesn't need to be. Once your score is above an 800, lenders don't really pay that much attention to how high it is. Or, to put it another way, I've learned that when it comes to borrowing money and scoring great rates on a loan, it doesn't make a difference whether you have an 820 or an 850. Either way, you're looking at getting the best offers out there.

As such, don't worry if you don't manage to ever get a perfect credit score. If you're able to get close, your score will serve you just as well.

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