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What does a credit score between 640 and 659 mean?
A credit score between 640 and 659 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 FICO and VantageScore, the main scoring models used by US credit bureaus, scores in this range are considered “fair,” although they’re very close to the “good” range.
A credit score in this range 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 640–659 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 640 and 659
|Credit Type||Credit Type||Credit Type|
|Installment loans||Mortgage||Eligible for most types of mortgages, including FHA-backed mortgages with a 3.5% down payment, conventional mortgages, VA loans, and USDA loans (in some cases)|
|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.
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 between 640 and 659, 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 this range.
- 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 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:
- 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
A credit score in the 640–659 range is somewhat (although not seriously) below average. There are a few reasons why your score might not be quite as high as you’d like:
- Your credit report contains at least one derogatory mark, like a payment on a credit card that you made at least 30 days late
- You’re overusing your credit cards
- You haven’t been using credit for long and you just haven’t amassed a very substantial credit file yet
Your score is getting very close to the point where a fair credit score becomes a good one. If you play your cards right, it’ll be very possible to raise it to that level or even beyond, at which point your options for new credit will open up. To do this, you just have to follow a few key strategies.
These strategies come in two broad categories:
Quick fixes for your credit score
When your score is a bit lower than you’d prefer, you can sometimes fix your credit quickly by searching your credit history for black marks and seeing if you can get any of them removed. To do this:
- Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request copies of your credit reports. You can do this once per year, completely for free.
- Dispute any items you find on your credit reports that look like they might be errors (these are unfortunately fairly common; it’s possible you have overdue debts on your reports that actually belong to someone who just happens to have a similar name).
- Write to your creditors and/or debt collectors and see if you can negotiate with them to delete the remaining (legitimate) negative marks on your report. You can do this by requesting a goodwill deletion or negotiating pay for delete.
To file a credit dispute with the three main credit bureaus, use the template we’ve provided below to create a credit dispute letter.
If you’re able to remove any of the negative marks on your credit reports, you might be able to bump your credit score past 659 into the good range practically overnight.
Strategies to build your credit in the long run
Whether or not the strategies listed above work, you also need to take steps to build your credit in a sustainable way over time.
These are more like broad lifestyle changes than quick credit hacks, and you should continue following these tips even after your score improves to a level that you’re happy with. Credit-building isn’t something you’re ever really done with; it’s a lifelong journey.
To build your credit, be sure to:
- Make regular (modest) purchases on your credit cards to add a positive record of on-time payments to your credit reports. If you don’t have any credit accounts, you can look for ones that are aimed at people who are trying to build credit, such as secured credit cards and credit-builder loans, although your score is high enough to get a “normal” credit card or loan if you prefer.
- Develop healthy and responsible credit habits for the future. Use your credit in moderation and pay off your credit cards in full each month. Be careful to never miss payments, and keep track of your other debts (even ones that aren’t associated with credit accounts, such as medical bills).
- Prioritize getting out of debt and stay out of it, with the possible exception of “good debt” like a mortgage (assuming your finances can handle it).
- Add alternative data to your credit report with free services like Experian Boost or third-party (paid) services that report your rental payments, such as PayYourRent or eCredable.
How long will it take for a score between 640 and 659 to improve?
If you really buckle down, you may be able to significantly boost your credit score in as little as a few weeks to a couple of months—particularly if you’re able to pay down large outstanding balances on your credit cards or successfully delete one or more negative marks from your credit reports.
After those initial gains, faithfully following the credit-building strategies above will yield slower (but ultimately larger) gains over the next 1 to 2 years.
If you have negative items on your credit report, don’t worry—they won’t stay there forever. The vast majority of derogatory marks can stay on your credit reports for up to 7 years (although some bankruptcies can stick around for 10). Provided you take steps to rebuild your credit, your score is certain to have completely recovered in 7–10 years, no matter what mistakes you made in the past.
Life with a credit score between 640 and 659
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 640 and 659
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 in the 640–659 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 poor 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 640 and 659
You’re eligible for most types of mortgages if you have a credit score of 640–659. The following are all the mortgages you can get and their requirements:
- FHA loan: 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. 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.
- Conventional mortgage: There’s no universal minimum credit score required for a conventional mortgage. However, most lenders won’t accept a score lower than 620, which is the minimum credit score required by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac).
- 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 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.
If you have negative items on your credit report that make you ineligible for a mortgage, you’ll probably need to rent an apartment.
Renting with a credit score between 640 and 659
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 640 and 659
With a credit score between 640 and 659, 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 640–659 credit score 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.