A Perfect 850 Credit Score Sure Feels Great, but It Won’t Change Your Life

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Your credit score used to be a mystery. Now, it’s so easy to keep track of that it almost feels like a game.

“Americans may finally be approaching what could arguably be called peak credit score,” Bloomberg’s Suzanne Woolley writes in a fascinating examination of the ways some people obsess over their credit scores.

The Fair Isaac Corporation told Woolley that about 1.4% of American consumers have perfect 850 credit scores. A growing group of “super-prime” customers have scores higher than 800. And the national average credit score is even up to 700, after dipping during and after the Great Recession.

For some credit score elites, increasing their scores even further has become something more than a hobby.

Credit Scores: They’re Everywhere

Woolley points out that it’s easier than ever to access your credit score, which used to be held under lock and key. You could use the government’s annual free credit report program to check for discrepancies, but to get the actual number, you had to pay $20 or more.

Now, in the era of Credit Karma and Credit SesameDiscover’s Credit Scorecard and just about every bank and credit card servicer inviting you to check your score for free, we’re surrounded by these numbers.

They’re all a little different thanks to the various scoring models and calculations of each credit bureau. Instead of simply helping you strive to be financially responsible, an easily available credit score gamifies the pursuit.

Getting a perfect credit score is a challenge akin to getting perfect attendance in junior high: No one will know unless you waive your achievement certificate around. That is, unless you’re thinking about financing a car, getting a mortgage or moving to a new apartment.

Your potential lender may see a score slightly different from the one you’ve grown comfortable with, but ultimately uses the same scale of 300 to 850 to determine your purchasing power.

You’re Probably Overthinking a Perfect Credit Score

Having a laser focus on your credit score may not be worth the time, experts say.

“There is no incremental value to having an 850 score over, say, a 760 or 780,” credit expert John Ulzheimer told Bloomberg.

Your score also fluctuates from month to month, which could leave you scratching your head, wondering what you did right or wrong — when it’s probably some algorithm making a miniscule adjustment.

Just for kicks, I checked my credit score every which way I knew how, just to see what would come up on this given day.

There’s a 17-point spread between my top and bottom scores. My two TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 numbers match, but I have two different FICO scores from two different banks.

In April, I wrote about the introduction of VantageScore 4.0, which will embrace adjustments to the National Consumer Assistance Plan, a cross-reporting fairness initiative. I’ve been waiting anxiously for my Credit Karma score, currently calculated using VantageScore 3.0, to switch over when 4.0 kicks in this fall.

What will the potential change by a few points mean for me? Probably nothing. I don’t plan on making a big purchase any time soon or asking for additional credit. I’m just curious.

And you know what they say about curiosity.

What to Worry About Instead of Your Credit Score

It’s not your credit score that counts so much as what’s inside it, much like a box of chocolates that comes without a map on the lid.

“The score isn’t what you should be concerned about,” Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, once told The Penny Hoarder writer Carson Kohler. “It’s managing the debts you already have and getting rid of that temptation to take on more debt when you can’t finance what you already have.”

Your credit report is the document you should actually examine on regular basis.

Your credit report shows the accounts you have, your limits and payment history for those accounts, and a whole lot of personal information about you. It’s not just about making sure it’s accurate. It’s also about making sure the entire report is as healthy as possible.

Factors like how old your accounts are, your payment history and how much of your available credit you’re using all go into the calculation of your credit score. But it may be better to spend time working on improving each of those factors rather than worrying about the final score.

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.