The Complete Guide to Your VantageScore

This three-digit number shapes your life in ways you probably don't realize.

VantageScore is a credit scoring model that lenders use to assess your financial responsibility. It's essentially a grade, ranging from 300 to 850, with a higher number indicating a greater degree of financial responsibility.

A good VantageScore increases your odds of credit card and loan approval and helps you secure lower interest rates. A bad score could bar you from securing financing when you need it. But what's a good VantageScore and how do you know if you have one? 

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What is a VantageScore?

VantageScore is a credit scoring model that was introduced by the three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- in March 2006 to compete with the most popular credit-scoring model of the time, the FICO score. Both are still in use today, but they calculate your scores differently.

Your VantageScore is based on the data in your credit reports with each of the three credit bureaus. That information is run through an algorithm that calculates your score based on the factors below. 

Financial institutions often pull your VantageScore to assess the risk in lending to you. A low score indicates a greater likelihood that you'll be unable to pay back what you borrow. You'll find few lenders willing to take that risk. A high score indicates that the lender's risk of losing money is low, so they'll be more likely to work with you.

How is your VantageScore calculated?

The way your VantageScore is calculated depends on which version of the score you're using. The VantageScore 3.0 is the best-known version, but the credit bureaus released the VantageScore 4.0 in 2017. The new model considers your credit reports in a slightly different way. 

Here are the factors that make up your VantageScore 3.0: 

Data source: VantageScore Solutions.

The VantageScore 4.0 model has made a few changes to this formula, emphasizing payment history and new credit a little more and balances and depth of credit a little less. Here's how it weighs each factor:

Data source: VantageScore Solutions.

Payment history looks at whether you pay your bills on time. This is where late payments hurt your score. The later the payment and the more late payments you have, the more serious the impact on your VantageScore. How recently you made a late payment also matters. They stay on your credit report for seven years, but their effect diminishes over time.

Depth of credit looks at the age of your credit accounts. This includes your average, oldest, and youngest account age. Older account ages help your VantageScore because they give lenders a longer-term view of how you manage your money. This helps them make more educated decisions about whether or not to lend to you.

The depth of credit category also looks at the type of credit accounts you use. There are two main types: revolving and installment debt. Revolving debts have a monthly spending limit, but your actual bill could vary. Credit cards are the most common type of revolving debt.

Installment loans like mortgages, auto loans, and personal loans have a predictable monthly payment. Showing that you can successfully handle both types of credit will boost your score more than just having a single type of credit on your reports.

Credit utilization looks at how much credit you use and how much you have access to. It takes into account your balances on installment loans, but focuses more on your revolving credit.

The relationship between the amount you charge to your credit cards each month and your total credit limit is your credit utilization ratio. You want to keep this under 30% if possible, as long as it remains above 0%. A high credit utilization ratio indicates a heavy reliance on credit and suggests that you might be living beyond your means.

The balances category looks at the total balances remaining on all of your credit accounts, both current and delinquent. High balances can hurt your score, even if you're current on all of your payments. But the effect isn't severe, especially in the VantageScore 4.0 model where it only accounts for 6% of your total score. 

Recent credit looks at the number of credit accounts you've recently opened and the number of hard inquiries showing on your report. Every time you apply for a new loan or line of credit, the lender does a hard inquiry on your report and this drops your score by a few points. But credit scoring models understand that people typically shop around when applying for new credit. VantageScore considers all hard inquiries that take place in a 14-day period as a single inquiry. 

Opening several new credit accounts close together is a red flag for lenders because it could indicate a potential change of fortune or an increased reliance on credit that could leave you unable to pay back new funds that you borrow. VantageScore has given this category more weight in its 4.0 scoring model.

The final category is available credit. This category looks at how much credit you have available on your revolving credit accounts. This doesn't have a huge effect on your score but having a larger amount of available credit can raise your score slightly.

What is a good VantageScore?

With the introduction of the VantageScore 3.0, the credit bureaus switched VantageScore's scale from 501–990 to the 300–850 scale that lenders were used to from FICO scores. It's up to each lender to decide on the minimum acceptable VantageScore that applicants need for a loan or credit card, but VantageScore breaks down the scores as follows:

Data source: VantageScore Solutions.

Superprime is the best rating you can have and indicates a financially responsible borrower who can be trusted to pay back what they borrow. Prime credit is still good and you shouldn't have much trouble getting approved for loans or lines of credit if you fall in this range. 

If you have near-prime or subprime credit, you'll probably struggle a little more when applying for loans or credit cards. Near-prime borrowers may get saddled with higher interest rates than their prime and superprime counterparts, while subprime borrowers might be denied outright. Take steps to improve your VantageScore if it falls into one of the lower two ranges. 

Why do I have more than one VantageScore?

Many people think they have a single VantageScore, but you have one for each of your three credit reports. These scores are often similar but might not be the same. Some financial institutions dont reportyour account information to all three credit bureaus, so one account might only show up on one or two of your reports instead of on all three. 

You also have a VantageScore 3.0 and a VantageScore 4.0. Like all credit-scoring companies, VantageScore periodically updates its scoring model based on existing data to more accurately assess risk for lenders. You won't know which score lenders will see when they pull your credit reports, so it's best to check all of them to see where you stand.

How do I get my VantageScore for free?

Several banks and credit card issuers offer free VantageScore 3.0 scores to consumers, though these are typically only from a single bureau. In some cases, you don't even have to work with that lender to receive a free VantageScore. VantageScore's website maintains a list of companies that provide free VantageScores to their customers or the general public.

While not free, you can also get VantageScores directly from the credit bureaus. You might purchase one of these scores to supplement your free VantageScore if your free score is only based on your credit report from a single bureau. 

VantageScore 4.0 is still a relatively new scoring model and there doesn't appear to be a place where you can view these yet, either for free or for purchase, but for most consumers, your VantageScore 3.0 should be similar to your VantageScore 4.0 so this shouldn't be a concern.

How do I raise my VantageScore?

Raising your VantageScore -- or any credit score for that matter -- comes down to managing your money responsibly. The most important thing you can do is always pay your bills on time. Set up automatic payments or reminders for yourself if you struggle to remember to do this. If you know a payment is going to be a little late, reach out to your lender to notify them and request that they dont reportit to the credit bureaus. They might comply if you've been a good payer up until that point.

Limit your credit card usage to 30% or less of your total credit limits each month. This will become even more important as more and more lenders transition to the VantageScore 4.0. Unlike the VantageScore 3.0, which only looked at your credit utilization ratio for the previous month, VantageScore 4.0 considers your credit utilization ratio for up to two years prior.

Try to have a mix of revolving and installment debt on your credit report, but don't take out a loan just for the sake of improving your credit. If you're going to apply for a new loan or line of credit, submit all your applications within a 14-day period so they count as a single inquiry. To maximize your score, avoid applying for more new credit for at least six months after.

If you're struggling to get approved for any type of credit because your VantageScore is subprime, try opening a secured credit card. These cards are designed to help individuals with poor credit improve their scores.

You make a security deposit, which is typically a few hundred dollars and equal to your credit limit. If you fail to pay back what you borrow, the lender keeps your security deposit and no harm done. It reports your monthly payments to the credit bureaus just like a regular credit card and if you decide to close the card in the future, you'll get your security deposit back, assuming you don't have a balance.

Beyond that, you just have to give it time. Credit scoring models like VantageScore are designed to provide lenders with a long-term view of how you handle your money so they can make informed decisions about whether or not they're comfortable working with you.

Assuming you follow the tips above, you can expect to see your score rise over time simply because your accounts are aging and you've demonstrated a longer history of responsible money management.

VantageScores are one of the most popular credit scoring models in use today and they play a significant role in your odds of credit approval and the interest rates you'll get. If you don't know yours, take the time to learn it and try some of the above tips to improve your score if you're not happy with where it is.

It takes a while to make any significant changes, so start now, even if you're not planning on applying for any new credit in the near future.

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