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What does a credit score between 601 and 619 mean?
A credit score between 601 and 619 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 (FICO and VantageScore), scores in this range are classified as “fair.”
A credit score between 601–619 is still low enough that it can make it hard to open new lines of credit and can damage your quality of life.
How a below-average credit score can affect your finances
Having a 601–619 credit score makes it harder to get approved for a loan or a new line of credit, as shown in the table below. If you do qualify, you’ll end up paying more money for your credit or loan because your lender will charge you a higher interest rate.
Loans and Credit You Can Get with a Credit Score Between 601 and 619
|Credit Type||Loan Type||Eligibility|
|Installment loans||Mortgage||Eligible for FHA-backed mortgages with a 3.5% down payment as well as 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||You may be eligible for a personal loan, but it’ll be difficult to get and the interest rate will be high|
|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||Usually eligible without 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 limit your job prospects and your options for renting an apartment 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.
That all might seem bleak, but it’s not as bad as it seems. There are several ways you can improve your credit score once you understand how credit scores work and how they’re calculated.
How your credit score was calculated
As mentioned earlier, the two main credit scoring models are FICO and VantageScore. Although the two models have minor differences, 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 rate: This refers to the proportion of your available credit that you’re using (also known as your debt-to-credit ratio). A lower utilization rate is better for your credit score. 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.
- 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 credit 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. Actually opening the account can further hurt your score and have even longer-lasting effects.
If your score is in the range of 601 to 619, it suggests that you may 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 items related to debt collection), they can easily lower your score to sub-620 levels.
- Insufficient credit history: A thin credit file can bring down your credit score even if you don’t have many derogatory marks. It could be that you haven’t used your credit enough to establish a positive enough payment history or that you don’t have a good mix of different types of credit.
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.
- Avoid closing old accounts (particularly accounts with a low balance).
- Send a debt validation letter demanding proof of any future debts that anyone tries to collect from you according to 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 weight them slightly differently. Here are just a couple of the differences between FICO and VantageScore:
- 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|
How to improve your credit score
As you’ve learned, a score between 601 and 619 is somewhat below average. There are a few reasons why you might have a low score:
- Your credit report has at least one derogatory mark, such as a late payment on a credit card
- You’re spending too much on your credit cards
- You just haven’t been using credit for long and your credit report doesn’t show a very long history
Your score is close to the point where a fair credit score becomes a good one, so you should be able to boost it into the next range without too much trouble—provided you follow the right strategies. You should investigate both:
Quick fixes for your 601–619 score
To fix your credit in the short term, get copies of your credit reports and scan them for negative marks. If you find any, see if you can have them deleted. To do this:
- Visit AnnualCreditReport.com, a website that is federally authorized to provide free yearly copies of your credit reports
- Dispute any items you find on your credit reports that you think are mistakes, such as delinquent credit accounts that actually belong to someone else
- Negotiate with your creditors (and debt collectors, if applicable) to remove your remaining negative marks; you can do this by asking for a goodwill deletion or proposing pay for delete
To dispute negative information on your credit report, create a dispute letter by downloading the free template below.
If you’re able to remove the negative marks dragging down your score, you might be able to bump your score into the good range very quickly.
Strategies to build your credit and improve your 601–619 score over time
If you can’t delete the negative marks on your reports (or if you discover that they aren’t actually responsible for your depressed score), you’ll need to look into methods for building your credit in the long run.
Arguably, you should familiarize yourself with these methods no matter what your situation is—credit-building is a lifelong journey, after all, and it doesn’t stop once you achieve a good score.
- Add as much positive information (e.g., on-time payments) to your credit reports as you can by using your existing credit accounts. If you don’t have any credit accounts, look for ones specifically targeted at credit-builders like yourself, such as secured credit cards and credit-builder loans.
- Practice good credit habits in the future. Use your credit in moderation and pay off your credit cards in full each and 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 to improve?
Building credit takes time, but if you’re diligent about following the strategies we’ve listed, you may see a boost in your score right away (particularly if you’re able to pay down large debts or get negative items deleted from your credit reports). You’ll also see a slow but steady increase over the next 1 to 2 years.
If there are negative marks on your credit report that are bringing your score down, they’ll remain there for 7 years (except for certain bankruptcies, which stay for 10). The upshot is that in 7–10 years, your score is certain to have completely recovered from any mishaps you made in your past, so long as you take the right steps to rebuild your credit.
Life with a credit score between 601 and 619
Unless your low credit score is a mistake caused by major errors on your credit report, you might remain in the “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 credit score between 601 and 619
There is no credit score too low to get an auto loan, and you should be able to get one when your credit score falls in the 601–619 range, but it might 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 of 620–660 (referred to as near–prime borrowers) had average interest rates of 10.13% on their used car loans and 6.64% on new car loans, whereas people with credit scores of 781–850 (super-prime borrowers) received average rates of 3.80% and 2.65%. 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 credit score between 601 and 619
Getting a mortgage is possible with a credit score in this range, 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 580 or higher. To get an FHA loan, you will need to:
- Pay a minimum down payment of 3.5%
- 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%
- Choose a mortgage that doesn’t exceed the FHA’s mortgage limit in your area
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. If you’d rather get another type of mortgage, then there is a small chance you’ll qualify. However, it’s more likely that lenders will require a higher credit score. Here’s what requirements you’ll need to meet to be eligible for other types of mortgages:
- Conventional mortgage: There’s no universal minimum credit score required for a conventional mortgage. However, many lenders follow the guidelines set out by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), both of which require a minimum credit score of 620.
- VA loan: VA loans 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. 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). You probably won’t be eligible if your credit history shows a foreclosure or bankruptcy within the past year or two.
- USDA loan: You generally need a credit score of 640 or higher for a USDA loan. You may be able to qualify with a lower credit score, but your application will need to be carefully reviewed and you’ll have to provide supporting documentation. You won’t be eligible if you have an outstanding judgment, and you might have a hard time qualifying if your credit history shows a foreclosure, bankruptcy, or debt settlement in the past 36 months.
Because your mortgage options are limited with a credit score like this, if you’re not interested in an FHA loan or you don’t qualify for one, you’ll probably need to rent an apartment until your credit improves.
Renting with a credit score between 601 and 619
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 above 600.
If your credit score doesn’t satisfy the landlord’s requirements, consider discussing your circumstances with them and showing them evidence that you’ll reliably pay your rent on time each month.
Getting a credit account with a credit score between 601 and 619
With a credit score between 601–619, you’ll be able to get a credit card, but you might not have a lot of options other than subprime credit cards, and you won’t be able to get rates as good as those offered to people in higher credit score ranges.
The types of credit cards you can get with a credit score like this generally fall into two categories:
- Secured credit cards: 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, 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, a secured credit card is always your best bet if your main goal is to build your credit. Unsecured subprime credit cards can be dangerous because their high interest rates and fees might 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.