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Giving credit where credit is due

Your credit score says a lot about what kind of consumer you are.

By writing the next line, I am basically begging Marketplace Money host Carmen Wong Ulrich to wag her finger in my face: I have only checked my credit score once in life.

It was a couple of years ago when I was making my first major "grown-up" purchase – a car.  And I haven’t checked it since.  The good news is, when my credit history was run (that one time), it turned up an impressive 780.  Yay me!  In case you’re not aware of how FICO credit scores are ranked, it goes a little something like this:

BAD 599-649

BETTER 650-699

GOOD 700-749

EXCELLENT 750-800

But did you know there’s an unlisted category of consumers? People who have a credit score of more than 800: the Credit Elite

Okay, we made that label up, but these personal finance high achievers deserve their own title, don’t you think? Only about 18 percent of Americans can say they’re in the 800-plus club. Naturally, we wondered what kind of people are credit perfectionists. 

We asked on Facebook here and here for folks with an impressive score to tell us about how they achieved it and how much work it takes to maintain credit nirvana. The following is a collection of some of our favorite responses, complete with tips on how to get on their level.

Amy writes:

“Being raised on a small family farm, I was taught from a very young age that you don't know if you'll have a crop next year. So you save consistently and live well within your means. This means that I've paid for cars in cash (because i save for them) and only purchase on credit cards what I have the money to pay for right away. My credit score was 804 at last check.”

That being said, I am NOT a homeowner.

Edward says:

“[My credit score is] 830.  For years I have had all accounts set up for auto-pay, and have made sure that the money was in the account. Credit cards never carry a balance, and are paid off every month.”

And Meredith  (FICO score 806) adds:

“My ‘secret’? Get a credit card early on. Use it sparingly. Pay on time. Pay the balance in full, if possible. The end :)”

They make it sound so simple, don’t they? Well, not everyone who got in touch with us had an easy row to hoe.  Cindy in Fishers, Ind., shared her story of how she went from having a mountain of credit card debt to scoring an 820:

And Frederick of San Diego, California readily admits that he probably would have gone down a bad financial path if his mother hadn’t given him a sound financial education:

Now I’m thinking, since I’m so close to being a card-carrying member of the 800 Plus Club, should I strive for credit perfection? Well, maybe I’m already there.  Like I said, it’s been a while since I checked my score…

Are you in the Credit Elite? Tell us your story with a comment below or Tweet us your score @LiveMoney with the hashtag #800plusclub. 

About the author

Lindsay Foster Thomas is the Associate Producer of Marketplace's Wealth & Poverty Desk.
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I refi'd last year and was told my score was 804. I wasn't surprised as I have credit going back to 1980. And while I have had some very high ratios in the past, I have always paid as agreed. I am now debt free except for my house.

My advice is to use credit as a convenience and not a lifestyle.

I have a credit score of 810. I started my credit history early by having my parents co-sign on credit cards and even the personal loan for my engagement ring. I also make all my credit card and other loan payments on-time by setting up automatic payments. I pay my credit card off in-full each month and I have a few lines of credit open that I don't actively use. I believe these lines of credit help my credit score by keeping my 'available credit to debt' ratio in a good place.

I also just had a baby and I will be very conscious about getting her credit score off to a good start. I plan to add her as an authorized user to one of my credit cards as soon as I can.

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