It’s natural to be curious about what credit score you start with at 18. You might assume you start with the lowest possible score of 300, but that’s not how it works. Instead, your credit score doesn’t exist until you begin generating financial data.
Good credit is vital if you want to be financially independent. Establishing credit early on can help you qualify for favorable rates and terms when you need to borrow money for a car or home. Here’s what you need to know about beginning credit scores and how you can build yours.
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What Is Your Starting Credit Score?
Essentially, your credit score doesn’t exist until you begin building credit. Before that, if a financial institution requests your credit history, they will find nothing. Only when you use a credit card or pay utility bills will there be something to put on your credit report.
This doesn’t mean you will start with the lowest score possible. Neither will you start with a high credit score, since that requires a strong credit history and proof of solid financial habits. But if you get off on the wrong foot by not paying your credit card bill on time, you may start with a lower credit score.
Usually, you need at least one or two revolving accounts that have been active for at least three to six months to begin building credit. Creditors and lenders use various credit scoring models to determine your credit worthiness. Therefore, your number may differ across different platforms. For example, your FICO score and VantageScore range between 300 and 850, while other models, such as your auto loan score, may go up to 900 or higher.
Breakdown of Credit Score Factors
A number of factors affect your credit score. Here are the ones you should you know about.
A key factor in determining your credit score is whether you pay your bills on time. In fact, when calculating your FICO score, 35% comes from your payment history. Because it plays a significant role in your overall score, paying your bills on time is crucial.
Your credit limit is the maximum dollar amount you can charge on a credit card. Credit bureaus determine your credit utilization by dividing your outstanding balance by your total revolving credit limits. This shows credit bureaus how much credit you are using against the total credit you have.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit utilization ratio under 30%, both for each credit card and overall. Maintaining a low credit card balance or paying it off monthly will help you maintain a lower credit utilization ratio. This factor accounts for 30% of your overall FICO score.
Length of Credit History
The longevity of your credit history also plays a part in calculating your credit score. Credit bureaus will look at the number of years your accounts have been open. The length of your credit history accounts for 15% of your FICO score.
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Credit is usually broken down into three categories: revolving credit, installment credit, and service credit. With revolving credit, creditors give you a specific credit limit to spend as you wish. You can make the minimum monthly payments or choose to pay off your credit card balance every month. If you make the minimum payment, the remaining balance will carry over to the next month until you pay off the entire balance.
Installment credit is used for auto, mortgage, and other loans. With this type of credit, the creditor establishes a fixed monthly payment you agree to pay back over a set amount of time. Demonstrating that you can handle multiple types of credit can increase your credit score.
Last, service credit is when companies like home utilities or a cell phone provider report your payment history to a credit bureau. On-time payments to these businesses can help build your credit. This accounts for 10% of your FICO score.
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New Credit Inquiries
When you apply for new credit, creditors conduct a hard inquiry. This means they assess your creditworthiness by looking at your overall credit history. New credit inquiries and new accounts account for 10% of your score. Triggering a large number of credit inquiries in a short amount of time is considered risky, and will negatively impact your credit score.
What Is Insufficient Credit History?
If you don’t have any credit accounts or your credit accounts are not reported to the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax), you may have an insufficient credit history.
Even if you establish credit but go a long time without using it or cancel your credit cards, your credit information might be removed from your credit file. In this case, you may also have an insufficient credit history.
How to Establish Credit History
Building credit might seem daunting. However, there are a few strategies to begin establishing a credit history from scratch. Here’s how.
Apply for a Secured Credit Card
Secured credit cards require applicants to put down a deposit. This deposit will usually act as your credit limit. You will still have to make monthly payments since the deposit is used as protection or collateral if you default.
A secured card will help you establish credit as long as the creditor reports to one of the three major credit bureaus. A secured credit card can act as a stepping stone to unsecured credit cards and other forms of financing in the future.
Become an Authorized User
To become an authorized user, someone needs to add you to an existing account held in their name. You will receive your own credit card, and the account history will go on your credit report.
Keep in mind, however, that since you’re not solely responsible for payments and the management of the account, this account may have less of an impact on your credit score than if you were the sole owner of the account.
Make On-time Payments
As noted above, your payment history counts as 35% of your score. Missing a payment can hurt your credit score and stay on your credit report for up to seven years. You can establish autopay to ensure you never miss a payment. However, you’ll still want to check your account monthly to ensure you weren’t overcharged.
Keep Your Credit Balances Low
Once you get a credit card, resist the temptation to run up the balance. The amount of credit you’re using plays a role in your score. It’s best to keep your balances low and use under 30% of your total credit card limit.
How to Monitor Your Credit Score
An important component of building credit is monitoring your progress. Monitoring your credit can motivate you to keep improving your score. It can also help you spot problems quickly, such as missed payments. Finally, keeping tabs on your credit will let you see how specific actions impact your score so you can better understand how credit scoring works.
The credit history you start with at 18 is a blank slate. Your credit score doesn’t exist until you start building credit. To begin your credit-building journey, consider opening a secured credit card or ask a family member to add you as an authorized user on their account.
A money tracker tool with credit monitoring like SoFi Insights can help. Track your credit score at no cost, with weekly updates to help you stay on top of when your score changes.
Is a credit score of 720 good?
Yes, a 720 credit score is considered good. However, increasing your score by 20 points will make it a very good score and help you receive more favorable interest rates and terms.
Does credit build before 18?
It’s possible to build credit before age 18 if you’re an authorized user on an adult’s account or you have a secured credit card. Many financial products, such as loans and credit cards, require you to be 18 or older to apply. Being an authorized user can be your first opportunity to establish credit history.
How can I quickly raise my credit score?
Since your credit utilization ratio significantly impacts your credit score, paying off your credit card balances and increasing your limits can help you raise your credit score promptly.
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Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .