What is a fair credit score?

Man smiling and reading on his phone about what a fair credit score isImage: Man smiling and reading on his phone about what a fair credit score is

In a Nutshell

Fair credit scores typically range from the upper 500s to the mid-600s, depending on the credit-scoring model. While there’s room to improve your scores if they’re in this range, you’ll likely still be able to get a credit card or loan. But you may not qualify for the best rates or terms available.
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

Fair credit scores fall at the lower end of the credit-scoring spectrum. For FICO, they generally range from the upper 500s to the mid-600s. Fair VantageScore® credit scores fall in the low- to mid-600s.

But it’s up to individual lenders to decide what scores they consider to be fair, and that range can vary by lender and the credit-scoring model the lender uses.

Even with some variability between lenders, knowing how your credit scores stack up can help you understand what types of credit, interest rates and terms you might qualify for. While you’ll typically be able to get a credit card or loan with fair credit, you’re more likely to qualify for better rates and terms with higher credit scores.

To give you a better understanding of how fair credit compares with other credit score ranges, let’s look at what different scores mean, the difference having good credit can make, and what you can do to improve your scores.

You may have many different credit scores

It can be tough to figure out how your scores stack up because you don’t have just one credit score. You may have many different scores, and it’s unlikely that any of those scores are the same. There are several reasons for this.

First, lenders may use multiple credit-scoring models, and different models have different scoring ranges. For example, VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0 as well as FICO® Score 8 and 9 range from 300 to 850. But industry-specific FICO scores that help predict the likelihood a person will repay a specific type of loan, such as an auto loan or credit card, range from 250 to 900. And older versions of the VantageScore range from 501 to 990.

Second, each credit-scoring model weighs the criteria it uses to calculate scores differently.

Third, each consumer credit bureau — and there are many — may have different information that it uses to generate a score. So your scores may vary based on the credit score model used or information that the bureaus have on you.

Credit score ranges

Even with so many different credit scores, it’s helpful to have a general idea of where your credit scores fall and what they mean, so that you have an idea of what to expect when you apply for credit.

Here’s a breakdown of credit score ranges for several popular scoring models.

  Very poor Poor Fair Good Excellent
VantageScore 3.0 300 to 549 550 to 649 650 to 699 700 to 749 750 to 850
  Poor Fair Good Very good Exceptional
FICO® Score 8 and FICO® Score 9 300 to 579 580 to 669 670 to 739 740 to 799 800 to 850

Lenders decide what different scores mean

While the tables above provide a general guideline of how lenders view credit scores, every lender has its own criteria for defining different credit score ranges, which may or may not match what you see here. For example, one lender may consider a score of 675 to be good, while another lender defines it as fair.

And don’t forget that while credit scores are important criteria used in lending decisions, they’re not necessarily the only ones. Lenders may also look at your ability to repay, debt-to-income ratio and other factors when deciding whether to approve an application for credit.

Why it’s important to have good credit scores

Having good credit scores is important because it can lead you to …

  • Better credit card offers — Credit card issuers typically reserve their best offers for people with excellent credit.
  • Lower interest rates — In general, people with higher credit scores are more likely to qualify for lower rates on personal loans, auto loans, mortgages and other types of credit, because lenders tend to view them as less of a credit risk.
  • Lower insurance premiums — In some states, insurance carriers can use credit-based insurance scores to help determine insurance premiums. In general, people with better credit pay less.
  • More rental options — Landlords typically run a background check — which may include a credit check — before renting an apartment or a house to a tenant. Depending on the rules of your state, if you don’t have a solid credit history, a landlord may choose not to rent to you.

What’s next?

If your credit scores currently fall into the fair or poor category, don’t panic. There are things you can do to help improve them. First, make sure you pay your bills on time and in full every month, because late payments negatively affect your scores. If remembering to make your payments is a struggle for you, consider setting up auto pay.

Second, try to keep your credit utilization ratio low. The amount of debt you owe compared to your available credit plays a significant factor in the calculation of your credit scores, and lowering your ratio can benefit your credit. Finally, apply for new credit sparingly and don’t open too many accounts at once.

While you’re working to improve your scores, it’s important to make sure that everything on your credit reports is accurate. You can get a copy of your report from each of the three major credit bureaus for free once a year at annualreport.com. If you find any errors, work to resolve them as quickly as possible.

Learn what your score means: 640    650      660      670      680      690

About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Towson University. She’s committed… Read more.