What Is a Fair Credit Score?

Definition & Examples of a Fair Credit Score

Woman with neutral expression using her credit card online
••• GCShutter / Getty Images

A fair credit score is a FICO score in the range of 580 to 669 or a VantageScore of 601 to 660. It's typically below average for U.S. consumers and communicates to lenders that a borrower is more likely than most to have trouble repaying their debts.

Understand how a fair credit score works, what it means to lenders, and how to improve it in order to boost your chances of getting approved for a loan.

About 17% of Americans have a fair FICO credit score.

What Is a Fair Credit Score?

A fair credit score is one that falls into the "fair" score range of the particular credit-scoring model used to generate it. It's typically below average for American consumers.

In Fair Isaac Corporation’s FICO scoring model—used in 90% of lending decisions—a score of 580 to 669 on a range from 300 to 850 is considered fair. VantageScore, another major scoring model that uses the same score range as the FICO model, treats a 601 to 660 as fair.

The score ranges above apply to base FICO scores (FICO Score 8, for example) and VantageScore 3.0 scores. FICO Auto and Bankcard scores and earlier VantageScore models (2.0, for example) have different credit score scale ranges.

How a Fair Credit Score Works

Your credit score is an important three-digit number derived from the borrowing activity in the credit reports on file with each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It's used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness—how likely you are to repay your debts—and make lending decisions. Generally, you want a score that’s “good,” or “excellent,” as the higher the score, the better your odds of getting approved for a loan and securing a low annual percentage rate (APR) and other terms that can lower your monthly and lifetime loan costs.

If your score is considered fair, lenders will likely view you as a subprime borrower—one who will have difficulty repaying your debts. As a result, you might be rejected outright for a loan, credit card, or another form of credit. Even if you are approved—and some lenders will approve a borrower with a fair credit score—you may receive a higher APR than someone with a good credit score. Your sub-optimal credit profile could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars over the loan term.

For example, let's say that you have a fair FICO credit score of 659 and are looking for your first home. According to national average interest rates as of July 2020, you might qualify for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with an APR of 3.88%. You'd pay $1,176 per month and $173,471 in interest over the loan term. That's $60 more per month and $21,838 more in total interest than you'd pay if you had a good FICO score of 670 and qualified for a lower rate of 3.45%.

Even within the same scoring systems, there may be slight differences between the scores from each of the three major reporting bureaus. Lenders may have reported slightly different information or given updates at different times.

Fair Credit Score vs. Good Credit Score

A fair score isn't substantially lower on the credit score scale range than a good score, which starts at 670 in the FICO model or 661 in the VantageScore model. But the two score classifications differ considerably in terms of the borrowing opportunities they afford.

Borrowers with good credit are statistically less likely to become delinquent on payments. As a result, they're more likely to get approved for a loan or credit card and secure a lower APR, reduced monthly payments, and lower lifetime loan costs than a subprime borrower with a fair score.

But the benefits of a slightly higher credit score don't end there. A good credit score can qualify you for better credit card rewards, including generous cash-back deals and higher credit limits.

A good credit score even makes it easier to rent a home or apartment than it would be if you had a fair credit score.

Fair Credit Score Good Credit Score
Lenders view borrowers as subprime. Lenders view borrowers as low-risk.
Borrowers have lower odds of approval and a higher APR. Borrowers have higher odds of approval and obtain a lower APR.
Borrowers miss out on the best credit card offers. Borrowers can get attractive credit card rewards.
It's more difficult to rent a home or apartment. It's easier to rent a home or apartment.

How to Improve a Fair Credit Score

Enlist these tips to raise a lackluster credit score into one that's good or better.

  • View your credit score: Your own credit card company may let you view an approximation of your credit score for free so that you can identify how far your fair credit score is from a good score. You may also buy your score from FICO or a credit bureau.
  • Review and fix errors on your credit reports: Use your credit reports to identify the problematic borrowing activity that is holding your fair credit score back so that you can address it. You can request copies of your credit reports for free from all three bureaus once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find errors (a late payment that wasn't actually late, for example), contact the bureau to have it fixed. When you check your own credit reports, that’s considered a “soft” inquiry, which won’t impact your score.
  • Make payments on time: Your payment history is the single most important factor in calculating your FICO credit score or VantageScore. Establish a budget so you have adequate income to meet your monthly debt obligations, and always pay on time. Set up auto-payments through your bank if it helps.
  • Stay well below your credit limit: Lenders prefer that you keep your credit utilization—how much of your available credit you owe—under 30%. The best way to lower this ratio is by paying down your outstanding balances, but you can also increase your credit limits.
  • Open new accounts infrequently: New credit card and loan applications trigger "hard inquiries," which can ding your credit score temporarily. Try to keep these applications to a minimum.
  • Get credit for alternative payment history data: For example, Experian offers Experian Boost, a service that lets you factor on-time utility and telephone/internet payments into your credit reports. Opt in by giving Experian permission to connect to your bank accounts, select the relevant payments, and your score will be updated immediately.

Key Takeaways

  • A fair credit score equates to a FICO score of 580 to 669 or a VantageScore of 601 to 660.
  • A score in this range indicates to lenders that a borrower is subprime, which results in lower odds of loan approval or costly loan terms such as a high APR.
  • You can improve a fair credit score through such actions as making on-time payments and maintaining a low credit utilization ratio.

 

Article Sources

  1. Experian. "What Is a Fair Credit Score?" Accessed July 13, 2020.

  2. MyFICO. "What Is a Credit Score?" Accessed July 13, 2020.

  3. VantageScore. "What Is a Good Credit Score and How to Get One." Accessed July 13, 2020.

  4. VantageScore. "How the Scores Range." Accessed July 13, 2020.

  5. MyFICO. "FICO Scores Versions." Accessed July 13, 2020.

  6. MyFICO. "Loan Savings Calculator." Accessed July 13, 2020.

  7. Experian. "Why Do Experian, Equifax and TransUnion Differ So Much in Score?" Accessed July 13, 2020.

  8. Experian. "What Are the Different Credit Scoring Ranges?" Accessed July 13, 2020.