Like fine wine, your credit score can improve with age, if properly maintained.
While it's not so surprising when a consumer over 40 crosses the threshold of an 800 FICO score, some may find it harder to pass that threshold because they've already covered many of the credit scoring bases.
Length of credit history accounts for 15 percent of your score under FICO's scoring model . That component factors in the age of individual credit accounts and all accounts combined. Credit mix is only 10 percent of your score, but you're in a better position to score high if you have installment loans - such as mortgages, which many young consumers are delaying these days - in addition to card accounts.
"Most people, by the time they're 40, have a revolving account and an installment account," said Michaela Harper, director of community education at the Credit Advisors Foundation. "So, you've pretty much maxed out the points you get from being able to handle different types of credit."
Additionally, consumers over 40 may suffer occasional credit score setbacks if they depend too much on various credit accounts to help them make ends meet. They're more likely than younger consumers to juggle mortgages, card accounts and car payments with educational expenses such as student loans. And many may own businesses that are funded with credit and their own cash.
Relying on too much credit can put you at risk of missing a payment or maxing out credit cards. Payment history and credit utilization combine to account for 65 percent of your FICO score. Even an anomalous slip-up can keep you from maximizing your score in the short term.
However, consumers over 40 who consistently maintain good financial habits can reach the highest rungs of the credit scoring ladder. Here are the stories of a few who are working to keep their scores over 800.
Keeping up with bills amid a busy lifestyle
Deborah Sweeney is the 43-year-old CEO of a Los Angeles-area business services firm and has a near-perfect credit score of 840. This despite the fact that she and her husband balance home and business ownership with the needs of two children who attend private school.
"We use credit for our homes, for the properties we own where we work and in our businesses," Sweeney said. "I find it difficult to make sure we pay every bill on time."
Sweeney once experienced a credit score setback due to a mishap with a retail card account from Nordstrom. She said the store stopped sending email statements at the same time her business moved to a new office. Instead of an email, a paper statement was sent to her old office's address. Sweeney didn't receive that bill, so by the time a second paper statement showed up at her new office, the payment was past due.
"It was a nominal hit, but I take it so seriously that I was devastated," Sweeney said. "I called Nordstrom, but they said, 'What's done is done,' and they had already reported me to the credit agencies."
The incident was an aberration. Prior to that and ever since, she has paid off all outstanding balances on her personal and business credit cards each month. In fact, her excellent credit helped her purchase her company during the height of the Great Recession, when many lenders tightened their purse strings or stopped granting loans altogether.
"We use credit for our homes, for the properties we own where we work and in our businesses. I find it difficult to make sure we pay every bill on time."
A post-recession bounce
A June 2017 report from FICO revealed the credit scores of many consumers who had serious delinquencies during the Great Recession have drastically recovered. But even people who maintained excellent credit throughout the recession saw improvement later.
Andrew Poulos, 44, who runs an accounting firm in Atlanta and also owns rental properties, saw his business revenues decline by 35 percent during the economic downturn. As small-business clients shut their doors and real estate tenants defaulted on payments, Poulos racked up more than $46,000 in credit card debt. However, he was able to diversify his business and stay on top of his debt payments, including a mortgage and other bills.
"This helped take my credit score from the low 700s to over 800, where it is today," Poulos said. "It all boils down to managing money well and being fiscally conservative to survive during tough economic times."
Poulos said he has more than 24 trade lines , including 15 credit cards. Most of his cards have high limits, which helps him keep his utilization at 30 percent or less on any given card.
No need to keep up with the Joneses
Detroit-area financial planner Michael Palazzolo is 47, and has a credit score of 826. He and his wife Amy have a mix of credit cards and installment loans, and they pay their card balances in full each month. Palazzolo also gets a bit of a score boost from his utility provider, which reports the couple's on-time bill payments to the credit bureaus.
Palazzolo and his wife carry only two personal cards and one business card that he uses to operate his financial planning firm, Fintentional. He said each personal card has a credit limit of just under $20,000, and the couple tends to keep their monthly charges at 30 percent or below.
"My wife and I have lived a fiscally responsible lifestyle in our 24 years of marriage," Palazzolo said. "We strive to live within our means and do not place a significant value on 'keeping up with the Joneses.'"
Palazzolo said he also uses Quicken software as a tool to set aside money in the family checking account to pay each monthly credit card statement in full.
A revolving balance breakdown
Janice Lintz, a 54-year-old freelance writer living in New York City, started using credit cards more than 30 years ago. Shortly after college, she did something she vowed never to do again - carry a balance on a card.
"I did that for one month and it almost gave me a breakdown," Lintz said. "It was just a colossal waste of money."
Nowadays, Lintz pays her balances in full each month, keeps her credit utilization at or near 1 percent and has a credit score of 810. And she doesn't shy away from new credit card offers. Lintz says she owns more than 12 cards and frequently takes advantage of rewards offers to help pay for fun trips around the world.
Closing a credit card account can eventually hurt your credit score by reducing your average age of accounts. But because of her long credit history, Lintz is able to discard plastic she no longer wants and chase new rewards cards without significantly damaging her score.
Your credit behavior will dictate your score
With age comes fiscal responsibility, whether you're a parent, a business owner, a globetrotting adventure seeker or all of the above. We often have to borrow to fund the things that make life worthwhile, and it can be overwhelming to keep up with so many bills to pay. However, solid financial habits go a long way toward building a credit score that stands the test of time.
"I always recommend that people do not chase credit scores," Harper of the Credit Advisors Foundation said. "If you watch your credit behavior, the score will take care of itself."
See related:Under 30 and over 800: Young credit score achievers , Zero to 750: What's the fastest route to a high credit score?