According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, total household debt in the United States reached over $13.5 trillion by the end of 2018. Contained in that number are a lot of different stories: young families buying their first home, a teenager getting his or her first car, young adults attending college in hopes of launching a career and, yes, at least a few horror stories of those unfortunate people who don’t use debt responsibly and wind up in bankruptcy court because of it. There are also a lot of stories outside of that debt as well — including people unable to access credit markets who might otherwise be a lot closer to their long-term financial and/or personal goals.
But there’s one common thread throughout all of those stories: a credit score. The way your story might or might not fit into the bigger picture of all U.S. household debt can often be defined by that three-digit figure. Despite this crucial number playing such an outsize role in the interest rate you can expect to pay on a mortgage or personal loan, many Americans don’t actually know their credit score, let alone the type of score they need to meet their goals.
That’s why GOBankingRates conducted a survey of 1,000 Americans to find out how much they know about their own credit and what sort of credit score they need to get different types of loans. The end results help paint a clearer picture of how Americans view their credit score and what they think that means. Keep reading to see how your credit score knowledge stacks up against the rest of the country.
Here are some of the major highlights of the study results:
More than 35% of respondents didn’t know their credit score.
Just over 4 in 10 polled felt their credit score was good enough to achieve their financial goals.
At least a third of respondents said they didn’t know what level of credit score they would need to get a mortgage (35%), an auto loan (36%), a rewards credit card (39%) and a personal loan (41%).
Many Americans Don’t Know Their Credit Scores
In spite of your credit score playing such an essential a role in your financial life, about 4 out of 10 respondents to the poll answered that they didn’t know what their credit score was. Of those that did know, about a third fell under a score of 740 with just 28% answering that they were over that level.
What Is Your Credit Score?
I don’t know
Breaking those results down by age, there was a predictable tendency for younger respondents not to know their credit score, with 60% of those between 18 and 24 answering “I don’t know.” That age group, though, is among the least likely to be taking out a mortgage or auto loan, so it’s understandable that many don’t know their score or have an established credit history. However, that response level doesn’t fall as far as one might assume it would for older Americans — the 35-to-44, 45-to-54 and 55-to-64 age groups all had over 30% of respondents answer that they didn’t know their credit scores.
Americans Believe They Have a Strong Enough Credit Score To Achieve Their Money Goals
There’s no one number that everyone should target in their credit score; the right credit score depends on what you want to do with it. And to that end, just over 40% of respondents said they felt their credit score could adequately meet their financial goals.
Of the roughly 60% who didn’t feel that way, over half responded that they didn’t know if their current credit score was high enough to achieve their goals. That leaves about 1 in 4 respondents who knew that their current credit rating was below what they needed it to be.
Do You Think You Have the Credit Score Necessary to Successfully Achieve Your Financial Goals?
Yes, my current credit score is good enough
No, but my credit score is almost good enough
No, I have a lot of work to do to increase my credit score
I don’t know
Once again, there’s also a clear march towards better credit reflected in the age demographics. By the age of 55, nearly half of those polled felt their credit score was adequate to their tasks. However, it’s interesting to note that over a third of those ages 18 to 24 felt the same way despite coming from a group less likely to have a long credit history to draw upon.
“While our financial needs and circumstances change with time, it is still important to ensure your credit report and score are maintained,” said Rod Griffin, director of consumer education at Experian. “Ensuring you have access to credit and other financial resources is a key part of financial health.”
But Do They Really?
Of course, whether those respondents are accurately assessing the state of their credit-worthiness might put their responses to that question into a new context. It’s possible a lot of people are assuming their credit score is where it needs to be while underestimating the specific number needed to qualify for certain types of loans.
Poll respondents were similarly unfamiliar with the credit score needed for different types of personal loans as they were with their personal credit scores. At least a third of respondents answered “I don’t know” when asked what the minimum credit score needed to get a mortgage, auto loan, rewards credit card or personal loan was.
In this case, that might be the most accurate answer — depending on who’s making the loans, the minimum credit scores necessary are going to vary widely. However, drawing on data from the Federal Reserve about the typical credit score required, it is possible to compare the poll answers to what the general practices are across the market.
When asked about the credit score necessary for getting a mortgage, 26% of respondents selected the 670 to 739 range, with another 15% believing one would need at least a score of 740-799 and 16% saying it could be as low as 580-669. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has the median originating score for mortgages of 759, meaning at least half of people are starting lower than that. Given the survey’s findings, Americans appear to be a little bit more pessimistic than necessary about their mortgages. With that said, the 16% who felt a credit score of 580 to 669 would work might need to adjust their perspective — just 10% of mortgages involve buyers with a credit score under 647.
Some 24% of respondents felt the minimum credit score necessary to get an auto loan was in the 580-669 range, while about 20% said it was 670-739. A little under 10% of respondents said 740-799 was necessary, but for those people, there’s good news: you probably do not need a credit score over 700 to secure an auto loan as at least half of auto loans originate from lower scores than that. Even the 580-669 range is still within a normal level, according to the New York Fed. About 10% of loans are going to people with a lower score than 550.
How To Increase Your Credit Score and Achieve Your Financial Goals
The fact that so many people are unaware of their credit score and what that might mean for their financial goals is troubling. While some people are simply too debt-averse to ever take out a loan, for millions of other Americans, credit is a critical tool in being able to live the life they want.
And it’s not at all hard to figure out your credit score. The major credit reporting agencies are each required to provide you with your credit report for free once a year. While the report does not include a score, it provides all of the information used to calculate the number. You can usually purchase a score for a nominal fee when you request your credit report. Credit scores are also free from a number of sources. For example, banks and credit card companies may provide free scores with your billing statement. Often, you can subscribe at no cost to credit monitoring services that provide both free credit reports and credit scores. You can visit the website of companies like Experian to explore a wide variety of other services available to help protect your credit score and identity.
“A number of free services provide credit scores. A great example is Experian Boost, a unique service that enables you to add positive information to your credit report to improve your credit scores. It gives you a free credit score when you start the enrollment process and another when you complete it to see the results and gives you control over the information you choose to add,” Griffin said. “There are also apps and monitoring services that give you unlimited access to credit reports and scores, helping you track your progress so that you know when your credit is ready when you decide to apply.”
Even if your credit score isn’t what you need it to be, there are plenty of ways you can improve it. Paying your bills on time, every time, is the first step — after all, your credit history is the biggest factor affecting your score. You should also be sure to review your history for potential mistakes and get them corrected with the rating agency as soon as possible.
Among the major factors that play into your credit score is your credit utilization rate — the percentage of available credit you’re using. So, paying down balances on your credit cards will significantly improve your score.
More From GOBankingRates
Last updated: Nov. 8, 2019
Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed 1,000 Americans ages 18 and older between Aug. 14 and Sept. 6, 2019, asking six different questions: (1) What is your credit score?; (2) What is the minimum credit score you think you need to get a mortgage and buy a home?; (3) What is the minimum credit score you think you need to get an auto loan and buy a car?; (4) What is the minimum credit score you think you need to get a credit card that offers rewards and/or cash back?; (5) What is the minimum credit score you think you need to get a personal loan from a financial institution?; and (6) In general, do you think you have the credit score needed to successfully achieve all of your financial goals (e.g., own a home)? GOBankingRates used Survata’s survey platform to conduct the poll.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Survey: Nearly 40% of Americans Don’t Know Their Credit Score — Do You?