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A 681 credit score is generally a fair score. While a lot of people have fair scores, you may still find it difficult to get approved for credit without high fees and interest rates with a score in this range.
|Percentage of generation with 640–699 credit scores|
“Fair” score range identified based on 2021 Credit Karma data.
Fair credit does open the door to some possibilities. With fair credit scores, you might qualify for loans with better terms than you would if you were building credit from scratch. You may also be approved for an unsecured credit card with decent interest rates and fees — and maybe even some modest rewards and cash back.
To understand what fair credit means, it’s helpful to first understand exactly what a credit score is. A credit score is a three-digit number that gives potential lenders a sense of your credit health. In other words, it helps lenders understand how likely you are to pay back money if they decide to lend to you. Credit scores aren’t the be-all, end-all of lending decisions, but they can be an important aspect.
Of course, it gets a bit trickier from there.
You can have many different credit scores based on different credit-scoring models created by companies like FICO and VantageScore. These models might weigh certain aspects of your credit history differently, so one of your credit scores may end up different from another. And even if the scores are calculated using exactly the same factors and weighting, the information in them may be different, since credit-scoring models may rely on data from different credit bureaus.
To make matters even more confusing, it’s often not clear which credit score a particular lender looks at, or how high that score needs to be for you to get approved.
Here’s the good news: You can still use individual credit scores — like the free credit scores you get from Credit Karma — as a measure of your overall credit health. And if you check your scores and see that they’re fair, that means you still have room to improve your financial future. Over time, if you continue to build healthy credit habits, your rising scores could help you get access to better financial products.
Let’s explore a bit more about what it means to have fair credit, and where you can go from here.
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- Building your credit
- What credit card can I get with a 681 credit score?
- Auto loan rates for fair credit
- Mortgage rates for fair credit
- Personal loans with a 681 credit score
Building your credit
The best way to build your credit from fair to good (and beyond) depends on your specific credit profile. But there are some overall healthy credit habits you can practice.
Here are some tips to help you address the factors that can affect your credit.
1. Check your credit reports and dispute any inaccuracies
A good start to building good credit is checking your credit reports. It seems simple, but regularly reviewing your reports can help you identify any errors that could be negatively affecting your credit. Checking your reports often can also help you spot signs of identity theft before they wreak havoc on your credit.
If you do find errors or suspicious discrepancies on your reports, disputing them could help you get them removed and ultimately improve your scores.
2. Lower your credit utilization rate
Your credit utilization rate is the percentage of your available credit that you’re using. For example, if you have a single credit card with a limit of $1,000 and you owe $500, you have a credit utilization rate of 50%.
Generally speaking, the lower your credit utilization rate, the better for your scores. A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit utilization rate below 30% — and even lower than that, if possible. A 50% rate is an example of a high credit utilization rate that could negatively affect your credit.
You can decrease your credit utilization rate by paying off debt (and not charging more to your existing credit cards). You can also lower your credit utilization rate by increasing the amount of credit available to you. One way to do that is by reaching out to your lender to ask for a higher credit limit or opening a new loan or credit line — though you probably won’t want to open too many too often, as that could have a negative impact on your credit as well.
3. Diversify your credit mix
Showing lenders that you have experience managing a mix of different types of credit can also help your credit health. Your various accounts may include a revolving credit line (like a credit card) or an installment loan that you pay back over time.
We don’t recommend applying for new loans just to build credit. Not only can that debt be expensive, but the application may result in a hard inquiry if the lender checks your credit reports while they’re deciding whether to lend to you. Hard inquiries are reflected on your reports and can affect your scores, especially if you rack up a bunch of them in a short amount of time.
4. Give it time
The age of your credit history — or how long your current credit accounts have been open — is another factor that may swing your credit needle. It’s one key reason why you should think long and hard before canceling any credit cards. Closing an old or sparingly used credit card account may seem like good financial hygiene, but it could decrease the average age of your credit history and negatively affect your scores. You’ll want to balance the decision to close an old, unused account with the negative impact it could have on the age of your credit history, as well as your credit utilization rate.
5. Pay on time
Showing lenders that you can consistently pay on time is an important part of your credit profile. Focus on making timely payments with your existing credit lines to build positive payment history.
If you have late payments or accounts in collections on your credit reports already, they will typically fall off after seven years. If it’s been more than seven years, or if you paid on time and the late payment on your reports is inaccurate, you may be able to get the late payment removed from your credit reports.
|On-time payments by credit score range|
|Credit score range||Avg. percentage of on-time payments|
Ranges identified based on 2021 Credit Karma data.
What credit card can I get with a 681 credit score?
As someone with fair credit, you may have access to a number of unsecured credit cards. Unlike secured cards, an unsecured card doesn’t require you to put down a security deposit.
That’s a plus, but there are other factors to consider. For example, many unsecured cards available to applicants with fair credit may charge an annual fee. These cards may also come with a high variable APR on purchases, which can translate to high interest charges if you carry a balance instead of paying off at least your statement balance each month.
With fair credit, you might be approved for a credit card with a relatively low credit limit — though some issuers will automatically review (and potentially raise) your credit limit after several months of on-time payments. Your credit limit is important, because it’s directly correlated with your credit utilization rate.
Can I get a rewards credit card with fair credit?
You may struggle to get approved for a cash back or travel rewards credit card with fair credit. While you might be able to find a card that earns a limited amount of cash back on purchases, the most-rewarding credit cards generally require good or excellent credit.
If a top-notch rewards card is your ultimate goal, don’t be discouraged. You may be surprised by how much good, persistent habits can affect your credit scores.
And that’s one nice thing about credit cards. Even the ones that aren’t the absolute best can help you build credit by reporting your account activity to the three major credit bureaus. This information makes its way into your credit reports and ultimately can impact your credit scores. So, as long as you make on-time payments and follow the other credit-building tips outlined above, you can put yourself in a position to qualify for a better credit card in the future.
Compare offers for credit cards for fair credit on Credit Karma to learn more about your options.
Auto loan rates for fair credit
There’s no single minimum credit score needed for a car loan. But generally speaking, credit scores in the fair range may limit your options to loans with higher rates and less favorable terms.
Building your credit over time is a good way to potentially get access to better terms, but that’s not an overnight process. If you’re on a shorter time frame, there are a few things you can do to help.
- Pay more upfront. Even if your only options for a car loan come with high interest rates, a bigger car down payment can help you save in the long term. If you’re able to, paying more at the outset means you’ll need to borrow less money and could pay less over the life of the loan. You could also get a lower interest rate with a bigger down payment.
- Consider a co-signer. A co-signer on your car loan can come with pros and cons. But if you have a trusted friend or family member with good credit who is willing to share the responsibility with you, you may be able to qualify for a better loan.
- Understand your options. It’s a good idea to compare loan rates and terms across multiple lenders when you’re looking for a car loan. The rates you may qualify for at a bank, credit union or with an online lender could be better than what you’re offered at the dealership. And shopping around won’t necessarily hurt your credit scores. Depending on the credit-scoring model, any hard inquiries that take place within a certain time period may only count as a single inquiry. That time period can be up to 45 days, depending on different variables, but shopping within a 14-day window is your best bet for minimal score impact.
Compare car loans on Credit Karma to see your options.
Mortgage rates for fair credit
The average credit score it takes to buy a house can vary widely depending on where you’re looking. With that said, it can be more challenging to get a mortgage with good terms if your credit is in the “fair” range.
There are several types of mortgages out there, some of which are meant specifically for those who may not qualify for a conventional loan. These loans, which are made by private lenders but are backed by the government, may allow a smaller down payment than you’d need with a conventional loan.
Common types of government-backed loans include …
- FHA loans
- VA loans
- USDA loans
These options can be easier to get than a conventional loan, but they aren’t for everyone. If you have fair credit and plan to apply for a conventional loan, you may find it difficult to qualify without having to pay high interest rates and fees.
It’s important to shop around to understand your options and what competitive rates look like in your area. As with auto loans, you have a window of time when multiple inquiries are only counted as one for your credit scores. While that shopping window can be longer, keeping multiple inquiries to a period of 14 days is the safest bet.
Compare your current mortgage rates on Credit Karma to learn more.
Personal loans with a 681 credit score
Are you in the market for a personal loan?
While you might qualify for a personal loan with fair credit, you could be charged a higher interest rate and more fees than you would with scores in the good or excellent range.
These higher rates and fees might make the loan a less desirable proposition, depending on what you need it for. For example, if you want to consolidate credit card debt with a personal loan, the interest rate with your new loan may not be low enough to save you money in the long run — especially considering all the fees you might be charged upfront.
On the other hand, if you’re using a personal loan to finance a major purchase, you should consider whether it’s something you need now or can wait to buy. If you can wait and spend some time building your credit, you might be able to qualify for a loan with a lower interest rate.
When you’re ready to move forward with a personal loan, you can compare personal loan options on Credit Karma.
If you have credit scores in the fair range, you may face some challenges getting approved for loans and other credit products with favorable terms and rates. Just remember: Building credit is a journey of many steps. A loan you don’t qualify for today may be the loan you’re approved for tomorrow (or, more realistically, in a few months or when your credit improves).
So, what happens if you don’t get approved? With fair credit, it’s certainly possible, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept or understand. Lenders are required to tell you why you were denied credit if you ask. Getting an answer can be especially helpful if you suspect the lender of discrimination. It’s illegal for lenders to discriminate against you based on certain protected traits like race, gender, religion or marital status, and there are steps you can take to protect your rights as a borrower.
When it comes to understanding your credit, we know there’s a lot of information to take in. But in this case, knowledge really is power. Knowing how to read and understand your credit scores and credit reports is the first step in taking your credit from fair to good.
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