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The quest for the perfect credit score

A man holds up some credit and debit cards

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: You could climb Mount Everest. You could sail the seven seas. Or, if you are truly ambitious, you could spend your years in pursuit of FICO perfection. This week CreditKarma.com reported that the average American's credit score dropped two points since the start of the year to 667.

And then, there is Chris Peplinski. A 37-year-old stay-at-home dad from Rogers, Ark. on a quest for the elusive 850 credit score. As of this week, he is at 816 and counting. Chris joins us to discuss the origins of his obsession. Welcome to the program.

Chris Peplinski: Hello, thank you for having me.

VIGELAND: Tell us first of all when you started this project and why?

PEPLINSKI: Well, it all happened back after I graduated college. I decided to buy a house and when I went to the mortgage broker, first thing he said was, "Wow, I'm impressed by your credit score; it's pretty high."

VIGELAND: What was it?

PEPLINSKI: It was 780.

VIGELAND: OK., yep, very good.

PEPLINSKI: And I never had any clue about credit scores before that. So I started doing some research about it and I realized that 850 is the top, so I started to make it my lifelong goal to be able to increase mine and get it up as high as I can.

VIGELAND: So let's go back and get the details of some of the things that you've done.

PEPLINSKI: Sure. I started out by, of course the first mortgage, when I purchased my house. But then the second thing I did, I realized that I need to have more than one credit card. So I got a second, then I got a third, then I got a fourth, and then I got a fifth.

VIGELAND: What else have you done to get yourself to 816?

PEPLINSKI: The other thing that people want to do and that I've done is you want to have a different mix of credit. I had school loans, so that of course increased my credit score. And then I also had a car loan when I was younger, and that changed the mix, so that was able to increase my credit score. Then when I moved from Minnesota down to Arkansas, when I sold my house, the credit bureaus saw that I paid off a mortgage, so that increased my credit score. When I paid off my car, that increased my credit score. Then when I paid off my school loans, that increased my credit score. Now I'm sittin' with no consumer debt whatsoever, only a small mortgage debt, and very good credit.

VIGELAND: All right, why not just stop there?

PEPLINSKI: Well I guess it's personal. I like to be the best at what I do, and when I see a challenge, I want to excel. It's just like someone who climbs mountains for fun -- they want to get to the top of Kilimanjaro, they want to get to the top of K2, just to say that they've done it. That's exactly what I want to do with my credit score. I want to get to that 850 and say that I can do it.

VIGELAND: Then if you've been able to get to 816 by doing things like paying off your mortgage and paying off your car and having the right balance of credit and that sort of thing, what else can you possibly do to get to 850? Do you know?

PEPLINSKI: To be honest with you, there's not much. The only other thing that will, in time, raise your score will be the length of my credit history. That's why people who are in their 30s and 40s, it's very difficult to have a credit score of 850. Usually, you've gotta wait until you're in your 50s and 60s.

VIGELAND: So you just need a few more birthdays?

PEPLINSKI: Yeah. A few more birthdays. I'm sure I have about 50 or 60 left, so I'm looking forward to it. I haven't set a goal of what year or what age I will be by the time I'll have a 850 score, but once I do, it's going to be a very fun birthday.

VIGELAND: Yeah, well I hope you don't put that on a credit card.

PEPLINSKI: Good point.

VIGELAND: Do you find at all that having a score of 816 benefits you more than when you had it at 780? Or is it purely for just personal reasons that you're doing this?

PEPLINSKI: The main benefit that comes about is if I were to have a problem where I'm not able to pay a credit card bill one month, or I accidentally miss a mortgage payment, I have a big enough buffer where if my credit score drops, I'll still stay above 780, in turn, being able to still give me the best available lines of credit for interest rates and for mortgages and for loans and things.

VIGELAND: Excellent point.

PEPLINSKI: Other than that, it is personal, but I really, really enjoy that buffer.

VIGELAND: Well Chris Peplinski, it's been fun to talk to you. Congrats on your efforts so far, and let us know when you hit that magic 850, would ya?

PEPLINSKI: Thank you. You bet I will.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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