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What does a 600 credit score mean?
A credit score of 600 is higher than the lowest credit score of 300, but it’s still a long way off from the highest credit score of 850. In the main scoring models used by US credit bureaus, 600 is in either the “fair” range (FICO) or the “poor” range (VantageScore).
A credit score of 600 is still low enough that it can make it hard to open new lines of credit and can damage your quality of life.
The image below shows how your credit score compares with the average for various generations.
How a below average credit score can affect your finances
Having a 600 credit score makes it very hard to get approved for a loan or a new line of credit, as shown in the table below. Even if you do qualify, you’ll end up paying more money for your credit or loan because your lender will charge you a much higher interest rate.
Loans and Credit You Can Get with a 600 Credit Score
|Credit Type||Loan Type||Eligibility|
|Installment loans||Mortgage||Eligible for FHA-backed mortgages with a 3.5% down payment, VA loans, and some non-qualified mortgages|
|Car loan||Eligible, but you’ll have to pay a higher interest rate|
|Private student loan||Usually ineligible without a cosigner|
|Personal loan||Usually ineligible without a cosigner, though you can get high-risk loans, such as subprime loans, payday loans, and car title loans|
|Revolving credit||Unsecured credit card||Eligible, though you’ll probably pay a high interest rate|
|Secured credit card||Eligible|
|Personal line of credit||Usually ineligible|
|Open credit||Cell phone contract||Eligible, but you may need to pay a deposit|
|Utilities (gas, electricity, etc.)||Eligible, but you may need to pay a deposit|
|Charge cards||Usually ineligible|
A bad credit score can also affect your life in other ways. For instance, it can make it hard to find an apartment and can limit your job prospects because many landlords and employers run credit checks. Employers probably won’t see your actual numerical score, but they will be able to see the negative items in your credit history that contributed to it.
Having a low credit score also means you’ll probably end up paying more for services like insurance.
How your 600 credit score was calculated
As mentioned earlier, the two main credit scoring models are FICO and VantageScore. Although there are some minor differences between FICO and VantageScore, both calculate credit scores based on the following factors:
- Payment history: Late payments lower your credit score. The later the payment, the more damage it will do. Charge-offs, collection accounts, and bankruptcies are even more damaging to your score.
- Credit utilization: This refers to the amount of credit that you’re using (also known as your debt-to-credit ratio). Many experts recommend keeping yours below 30% (meaning you should try not to reach a $3,000 balance on a credit card with a $10,000 limit). VantageScore recommends keeping your credit utilization even lower, under 10% if possible. 1
- Length of credit history: This is determined by the age of your oldest and newest credit accounts as well as the average age of all of your accounts. Old accounts that you’ve had for many years boost your credit score, whereas new accounts lower it.
- Credit mix: Your credit score will be lower if you don’t have a balanced mix of revolving accounts (e.g., credit cards and store credit) and installment accounts (e.g., mortgages, car loans, and student loans).
- New accounts: When you apply for a credit card or loan, the lender will run a credit check. This will trigger a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries take a few points off your credit score, and the effect lasts for up to 12 months. 2 Actually opening the account can further hurt your score and have even longer-lasting effects.
Usually, if your score is 600, it suggests you have one (or both) of the following issues with your credit history:
- Derogatory marks: If your credit report has several derogatory marks (negative items in your payment history, such as missed payments or marks related to debt collection), they can easily lower your score to 600.
- No positive credit history: It’s also possible to have a low credit score if you don’t have many derogatory marks but you’ve never used your credit enough to establish a positive payment history.
The good news is that you can recover from both situations. However, before you worry about improving your credit score, it’s important to make sure you’re not doing anything to damage it.
To do this, follow these tips:
- Pay all of your bills on time.
- Avoid opening any new credit accounts (unless you need to build credit).
- Avoid closing old accounts.
- Send a debt validation letter demanding proof of any future debts that anyone tries to collect from you—this is one of your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
VantageScore vs. FICO credit score calculation methods
VantageScore and FICO take the same factors into account to produce your score, but they weigh them slightly differently (which is why you might have different credit scores in the two models). Here are just a couple of the differences between FICO and VantageScore: 3
- VantageScore groups the length of your credit history and your credit mix into one category called Depth of Credit.
- In addition to your credit utilization (represented as a percentage), VantageScore also looks at your current balances and your remaining available credit (represented as dollar figures).
The tables below show how the models weigh your financial decisions to produce your score:
|Payment History||Amounts Owed||Length of Credit History||Credit Mix||New Credit|
|Payment History||Credit Utilization||Depth of Credit||Recent Credit||Balances||Available Credit|
Putting your 600 score in context: how it compares to other scores
The table below shows the average VantageScore and FICO credit scores among US consumers, as well as your credit rating in each of these models and how far your 600 credit score is from the next scoring category.
|Your Rating||Points to Rating Upgrade||Points to Rating Downgrade||Average Score in US|
How to improve your 600 credit score
As you know, your credit score of 600 is below average. There are several possible reasons for your low score:
- You have derogatory marks on your credit report, such as late payments or debts in collection
- You’re overspending on your credit cards
- You just haven’t been using credit for very long and your credit file is too thin
The good news is that regardless of the reasons, you should be able to bump your score into a better range without too much trouble. You should investigate both:
Quick fixes for your 600 score
To fix your credit quickly, you need to check your credit report for negative marks. If you find any, try to get them removed. To do this:
- Get copies of your credit reports, which you can obtain for free from AnnualCreditReport.com
- Dispute any items you find on your credit reports that you believe are mistaken (e.g., overdue debts that don’t actually belong to you)
- Try to negotiate with your creditors and debt collectors to remove your other (legitimate) negative marks, which you can do by asking for a goodwill deletion or proposing pay for delete
To dispute negative information on your credit report, create a dispute letter using the downloadable template below.
If you’re successful, you may be able to boost your score of 600 significantly in a matter of several months.
Strategies to build your credit over time
If you aren’t able to remove the negative marks bringing down your credit score to 600 (or if you find you have a below-average score for other reasons), you’ll need to explore long-term, sustainable strategies to build your credit.
In fact, even if you are able to achieve a quick boost in your score, you should still brush up on these—they’re general credit-building best practices that you should continue following even once your score improves.
- Add positive information to your credit reports by using credit regularly and responsibly (if you don’t currently have access to credit, look for easy-to-get accounts like secured credit cards and credit-builder loans)
- Practice good credit habits going forward; use your credit in moderation and try to pay off your credit cards in full every month
- Do your best to get out of debt (and stay out of it)
- Add alternative data to your credit report with Experian Boost or a third-party rent-reporting service, such as PayYourRent or eCredable
How long will it take for your score of 600 to improve?
Building your credit is a lifelong journey, but if you follow the strategies above, you can expect to see a modest boost in your score immediately (especially if you’re able to pay down large debts or remove negative items from your credit reports) and a slow but steady increase over the next 1–2 years.
If black marks on your credit reports are bringing your score down, they’ll remain there for a maximum of 7 years (with the one exception of certain bankruptcies, which stay for 10). In 7–10 years, your 600 score is guaranteed to have fully recovered from any mishaps in your past, provided you’ve taken the right steps to rebuild your credit.
Life with a 600 credit score
Unless your low credit score is a mistake caused by major errors on your credit report, you can expect to remain in the “poor” or “fair” range for at least the next few months.
Until your score improves, avoid taking out any unnecessary loans to ensure that you won’t sabotage your progress by accumulating debt that you can’t pay off.
Getting auto loans with a 600 credit score
There is no credit score too low to get an auto loan, and you should be able to get one when your credit score is 600, but it will probably have a relatively high interest rate. Before taking out an auto loan, consider whether the potential toll it’ll take on your finances is worth it or if you can wait until you get your score in the “good” range.
According to a 2020 quarterly report by Experian, people with credit scores in the range of 501–600 (referred to as subprime borrowers) had average interest rates of 16.56% on their used car loans and 10.58% on new car loans, whereas people with credit scores of 781–850 (super-prime borrowers) received average rates of 3.80% and 2.65%. 4 Waiting until your score improves could save you hundreds of dollars each month and thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.
If you need to buy a car before your credit improves, then consider getting a used car that you can pay for upfront.
If you’re set on getting an auto loan with bad credit, then you should pay as large of a down payment as you can afford and consider getting prequalified or applying for a preapproval from your bank or credit union to increase your bargaining power.
Getting a mortgage with a 600 credit score
Getting a mortgage is possible with a credit score of 600, although your options will be limited. The minimum credit score to get a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is 500, and you can get a mortgage with a down payment of only 3.5% if your credit score is 600 or higher. To get an FHA loan, these are things you’ll need to do:
- Pay a minimum down payment of 3.5% 5
- Show proof that your mortgage payments won’t exceed 31% of your gross monthly income and that your debt-to-income ratio will be less than 43% 5
- Choose a mortgage that doesn’t exceed the FHA’s mortgage limit in your area
You may also be eligible for VA loans, which are exclusively for members of the military (both current and former) and their families. The US Department of Veteran Affairs doesn’t impose a minimum credit score requirement for a VA loan. 6 They instead leave it up to lenders, whose credit score requirements vary widely, often from 580 (e.g., Caliber Home Loans) to 620 (e.g., Quicken Loans). However, you probably won’t be eligible if your credit history shows a foreclosure or bankruptcy within the past year or two.
It’s worth noting that you won’t be eligible for an FHA-backed loan if you had a foreclosure in the past three years or filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in the past two years. 7 VA loans are a bit more flexible, but you’ll probably still have to wait at least a year or two after a bankruptcy or foreclosure before you’re eligible.
If you want a conventional mortgage instead, then there is a small chance you’ll qualify. However, it’s more likely that lenders will require a credit score of 620, which is the minimum score required by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). 89
If you’re not interested in any of these loans or you don’t qualify for one, you’ll probably need to rent an apartment.
Renting with a 600 credit score
You often need a credit score to rent a house or apartment since many landlords run credit checks on prospective tenants. There’s no universal minimum credit score for tenants, but many landlords look for a score of at least 620–650.
If you’re looking for a rental and the landlord plans on doing a credit check, it’s best to be upfront with them about your low score. You may be able to get the landlord to look past it if you can convince them that you’ll reliably pay your rent on time each month.
Getting a credit account with a 600 credit score
With a credit score of 600, you’re really only eligible for subprime credit cards. Because creditors need to compensate for the risk of lending to people with poor credit, most subprime credit cards have significant drawbacks.
Subprime credit cards fall into two categories:
- Secured credit cards: As mentioned above, with these cards, creditors mitigate their risk by requiring you to pay a security deposit, which they’ll keep if you default on your debt.
- Unsecured cards with high interest rates: With these cards, creditors compensate for the lack of a security deposit by charging very high interest rates and additional fees (e.g., inactivity fees).
Given the choice between those two options, it’s always better to go with a secured credit card. Unsecured subprime credit cards are dangerous because their high interest rates and fees can further jeopardize your finances.
Don’t apply for a credit card if you know your credit score doesn’t meet the company’s requirements. Most applications will trigger a “hard inquiry,” which will cause your score to temporarily drop. To find out if the card issuer has a minimum credit score, check their website or give them a call.