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What does a 661 credit score mean?
A credit score of 661 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, 661 is in either the “fair” or “good” range.
Here’s how your score compares with the average credit score for different generations.
How a below-average credit score can affect your finances
Even though 661 is very close to being considered a good credit score by both of the major scoring models, you may still end up paying more money for loans and other types of credit. This is because your lender might charge you a higher interest rate if they don’t consider you to be a prime borrower (someone with a low risk of defaulting on payments).
Loans and Credit You Can Get with a 661 Credit Score
|Credit Type||Loan Type||Eligibility|
|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|
|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|
In addition to determining what types of credit you’re eligible for, your credit score can affect your life in other ways. For instance, a bad credit score 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.
Your credit score can also affect how much you pay for services like insurance.
Thankfully, a 661 credit score is approaching the “good” range in both scoring models, and there are several ways you can improve your credit score once you understand how credit scores work and how they’re calculated.
How your 661 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. 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 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. 2 Actually opening the account can further hurt your score and have even longer-lasting effects.
While a credit score of 661 doesn’t necessarily indicate a bad credit history, it may suggest that you have one (or both) of the following issues:
- Derogatory marks: A derogatory mark (negative item in your payment history, such as a missed payment or item related to debt collection) can easily bring a good or even excellent score down to 661.
- 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 (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 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: 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 661 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 661 credit score is from the next scoring category.
|Your Rating||Points to Rating Upgrade||Points to Rating Downgrade||Average Score in US|
Given time, you can improve your credit score. This can mean developing your credit profile if you don’t have much of a credit history or recovering from negative marks that brought your score down. Even the most damaging items (like collection accounts or bankruptcy) only stay on your credit report for 7 to 10 years. 4
Regardless of your circumstances, there are steps that you can take immediately to increase your credit score.
How to improve your 661 credit score
A 661 score is slightly below average. Your score might be falling short of your goal for any of several reasons:
- You have at least one derogatory mark, like an overdue payment on a credit card, somewhere on your credit report (although since your score is fairly high in its range, any black marks you have are unlikely to be serious).
- You’re overspending on your credit cards.
- You’ve been using credit for a short time, which can prevent you from achieving a good credit score. This is referred to as having a “thin credit file.”
661 already counts as a good score in VantageScore’s model, and in FICO’s, it’s close to the line where a fair credit score becomes a good one. This means that with just a small boost, you’ll be able to greatly expand your lending options.
Quick fixes for your 661 score
If your credit score isn’t quite where you want it to be, you can look into ways to fix your credit quickly. To do this, you need to see if there are any negative marks on your credit reports and have them deleted if you can. To do this:
- Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and get copies of your credit report (you’re entitled to receive free copies of each annually).
- If you find any mistakes, such as debts that don’t belong to you, dispute the errors on your credit report with the credit bureau that’s reporting them.
- Contact your creditors and/or debt collectors and see if you can negotiate with them to delete any of the (legitimate) negative marks that remain. This isn’t always possible, but you can sometimes manage it by requesting a goodwill deletion or negotiating pay for delete.
To facilitate your dispute, you can use the free downloadable template below to create a dispute letter.
Right now you have a decent credit score that’s right on the verge of becoming a good one. If you’re able to successfully delete any negative items, that might be enough to achieve your goal.
Strategies to build your credit in the long run
Regardless of whether you’re able to remove any negative marks from your credit report (or whether you even have any to begin with), don’t neglect long-term methods for building your credit. To achieve a really good score, you also need to take steps to ensure you’ll have a well-rounded credit file in the years to come.
To build your credit, do the following:
- Make small, regular purchases on your credit cards to add positive payment information to your credit reports. If you don’t have any loans (e.g., a mortgage, auto loan, etc), look into getting a credit-builder loan, which is a type of easy-to-get loan that’s specifically designed for boosting your credit score.
- Manage your credit accounts well and maintain good habits going forward. Don’t overspend on your cards (try to use under 10% of your credit limit on each) and pay off your credit cards in full every month.
- Get out of debt, particularly if you have any harmful, high-interest debts (such as credit card bills that are piling up). You can make an exception for long-term debts like a mortgage that you’ve factored into your monthly budget.
- Add alternative data, such as your regular payments on your utility accounts, to your credit report with Experian Boost. You can also use a third-party (paid) service that reports your rental payments, such as PayYourRent or eCredable.
How long will it take for your score of 661 to improve?
Your credit score won’t improve overnight, but it won’t necessarily take years, either. The quick fixes listed above can yield results as soon as your credit disputes are processed, which may take 30–45 days (this is assuming your disputes are successful, of course, which isn’t guaranteed). The longer-term credit-building strategies won’t pay off as quickly, but if you stick to them faithfully, you may see a modest improvement in a few months and a more significant improvement in 1 to 2 years.
If you’ve struggled with your credit in the past and your score is recovering from negative marks like late payments, the longest it can possibly take is 7–10 years (provided you take steps to rebuild your credit and avoid incurring any more black marks on your credit file in the meantime). Derogatory marks stay on your credit reports for a maximum of 7 years (10 years in the case of certain bankruptcies).
Life with a 661 credit score
Unless there are major errors on your credit report that have caused a drop in your credit score, it might take a few months before your score is high enough to qualify you for the best rates and terms on loans and other types of credit.
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 661 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 661, 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 a bit higher.
According to a 2020 quarterly report by Experian, people with credit scores of 601–660 (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%. 5 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’re set on getting an auto loan right now, then pay as large of a down payment as you can afford and consider getting prequalified or applying for preapproval from your bank or credit union to increase your bargaining power.
Getting a mortgage with a 661 credit score
You’re eligible for most types of mortgages if you have a credit score of 661. The following are all the mortgages you can get and their requirements:
- FHA loan: Your credit score qualifies you for maximum financing (a down payment of only 3.5%) on a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). 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. 6
- Conventional mortgage: Most lenders will consider giving you a mortgage because your credit score is above 620, which is the minimum score required by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). 7 8
- VA loan: The US Department of Veteran Affairs backs VA home loans, which are exclusively for members of the military (both current and former) and their families, and they don’t impose a minimum required credit score. 9 They instead leave it up to lenders, most of whom will be willing to issue you a mortgage if you have a credit score of 661. You probably won’t be eligible if your credit history shows a foreclosure or bankruptcy within the past year or two.
- USDA loan: As long as you have two tradelines that have been open for 12 months in the past two years, you’ll meet the credit requirements for a USDA loan because your credit score is above 640. 10 However, 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 661 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, and many landlords will accept a credit score of 661.
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 661 credit score
With a credit score of 661, you’ll be able to get a credit card, but how favorable the terms are will depend on the card issuer and the scoring model they use. Some companies might only offer you subprime credit cards, and you won’t be able to get the rates they reserve for people in higher credit score ranges.
The types of credit cards you can get with a credit score of 661 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: These cards don’t require a deposit. You may be able to get an unsecured credit card, but until your credit score improves, you can expect creditors to compensate for the increased risk by charging you 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 you don’t meet the company’s requirements—both in terms of your credit score and other factors they might consider. Most applications will trigger a “hard inquiry,” which will cause your score to temporarily drop and may increase the likelihood that subsequent applications will be rejected. To find out if the card issuer has a minimum credit score, check their website or give them a call.