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What Does Your Credit Score Start At?

Brittney Myers
By: Brittney Myers

Our Credit Cards Expert

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One of the most common questions young adults ask about credit is: What does your credit score start at? In other words, when you first turn 18 and have no credit cards or other debt, what is your credit score? 

Personal finance education isn't universally taught in the U.S., and as a result, many people understand little about credit scores and building credit. 

It's a trick question

At face value, “What does your credit score start at?” can be a trick question. You see, you don't actually start with a credit score at all. That is, you aren’t born with a credit score, nor are you automatically given one when you turn 18. 

According to the rules of the widely-used FICO® credit scoring method, you need to meet some basic requirements to be eligible for a credit score in the first place. Until you meet those requirements, you won’t need to wonder about “What does your credit score start at?” -- because you’ll have no score at all and will be considered credit invisible.

To receive a FICO® Score, you will need at least one credit account that has been open for six months or more and at least one credit account that has been reported to a credit bureau within the past six months. This could be one account or multiple accounts. 

So, what does your credit score start at, once you qualify for one? The FICO® Score ranges from a minimum of 300 to a maximum, or perfect score, of 850. But you don’t start out with a 300 and work your way up. Instead, your score is calculated using a proprietary formula created by FICO®.

What makes up your FICO® Score?

There are five categories of information that are used to calculate your FICO® Score, each with its own weight in the formula. So, what does your credit score start at? Well, it will depend on how you do in each category.

Payment history: Approximately 35% of your score comes from your payment history. The number one thing lenders want to know is whether you’ll pay your bills on time, so this category is the primary factor if you want to know what does your credit score start at? Late payments or other irresponsible behavior can quickly tank your score, so make all your payments on time every month.

Amounts owed: Up to 30% of your FICO® Score will be based on your amounts owed. This is measured, in part, through your credit utilization ratio, which looks at how much debt you have versus your available credit. Make sure your credit card, and other revolving account balances, are at a low percentage of your credit limits. Paying down your loan balances also boosts this part of your score.

Credit history length: The length of your credit history counts for 15% of your score and includes several time-related types of information. The age of your oldest credit account, the average age of all of your accounts, and the age of each of your individual accounts are all considered. The general rule is that older is better, so when asking “What does your credit score start at?” keep in mind that your limited credit history will play a role in your initial score.

New credit: Worth 10% of your score, the new credit category includes two things: credit inquiries and new credit accounts. When you apply for a new credit account, a hard credit inquiry is made to check your credit. Too many recent inquiries could be a sign you’re about to take on lots of debt. One or two new inquiries or accounts likely won’t hurt your FICO® Score, but several in a short period of time can have a larger impact, especially when you have a limited credit history.

Credit mix: Finally, 10% of your score comes from your credit mix, which refers to the variety of different credit account types you have. Creditors want to see that you can responsibly handle different types of credit. That said, don’t open new accounts willy-nilly to satisfy this category. Your credit mix will naturally diversify over time as you need new types of credit like a car loan or a mortgage.

Based on these categories, you can see that there's no cut and dry answer to “What does your credit score start at?” Even if you have a perfect payment history, for instance, you may start out with average or “fair” credit because you have limited credit history or a poor credit mix. Unless you make some big mistakes in your first six months, however, you're unlikely to start with a flat-out bad credit score.


Getting approved for a credit card

Check credit score requirements before applying for a credit card. Some credit cards only approve people with excellent credit. Others are made especially for people with low or no credit. Here are our favorite credit cards organized by credit score requirements:

The best ways to establish credit

If the question “What does your credit score start at?” is at the top of your mind, here are some suggestions that can help you establish a strong FICO® Score and set you on the path to excellent credit:

  • A secured credit card can be a great way to establish credit. Secured cards work just like regular credit cards and report your payment record to the three credit bureaus, but they do require a refundable security deposit. I used a secured credit card to help establish my own credit, and highly recommend this route.
  • Alternatively, being added as an authorized user to a parent or guardian’s account can help you establish a FICO® Score. Just be sure the person who adds you uses their card responsibly -- otherwise, it could have the opposite effect.
  • Pay your card in full and before the due date every month. If you absolutely must carry a balance, be sure to make at least the minimum required payment to keep your account in good standing.
  • Keep your credit card debt balances below 30% of your available credit. Experts generally agree that credit utilization above 30% can hurt your credit score.
  • Apply for new credit sparingly. A flurry of new credit accounts and applications all at once can be a big negative for your score, especially if you have a limited credit history.

Of course, when contemplating “What does your credit score start at?” it’s important to remember that your credit score is fluid. Every time someone checks your credit report and score, a new credit score is generated based on your most recent credit history data. Don't focus on the question, what does your credit score start at? Instead, give more consideration to where your credit score is going.

Still have questions?

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