What Is a Starting Credit Score?
As you begin building credit for the first time, it can help to understand what influences your starting credit score
When you check your credit score for the first time, you might be surprised to find a three-digit number, even if you’ve never used credit before. That’s because your credit score doesn’t start at zero. In fact, the lowest possible score from FICO® or VantageScore® is 300.
But unless you’ve had some recent trouble with on-time payments or high spending, your score likely won’t be that low. Read on to learn more about where your score starts and why using credit responsibly is important from day one.
What Credit Score Do You Start With?
Since everyone’s credit journey is different, there’s no one standard score everyone starts out with.
You won’t start with a score of zero, though. You simply won’t have a score at all. That’s because your credit scores aren’t calculated until a lender or another entity requests it to determine your creditworthiness.
The key, and more important question, is how to use your credit responsibly to help build the best score possible.
How Is Your Starting Credit Score Calculated?
Once you open a line of credit, there are some factors that will have a direct impact on your scores. Here are a few the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says can influence your credit score:
- Payment history: How well you’ve done making payments on time.
- Debt: How much current unpaid debt you have across all your accounts.
- Credit utilization: A ratio that reflects how much of your available credit you’re using compared with how much you have available. Credit utilization is usually expressed as a percentage.
- Credit mix: How many and what kinds of loans you have, such as revolving credit accounts and installment loans.
- Credit age: How long your accounts have been open. But remember, what qualifies as your oldest line of credit depends on what’s being shown in your credit reports.
- New credit applications: How many times you’ve applied recently for new credit. The effect of a single application on your scores might be minor, but a lot of new applications, each of which triggers a hard credit inquiry, could still give a negative impression to lenders.
At What Age Does Your Credit Score Start?
Most people won’t have credit reports or scores before turning 18. You typically have to be at least that age to open a credit card in your own name. If you’ve never used any form of credit before, there’s no way to track your credit usage. And in many cases that means credit reports and scores may not exist.
But when you’re eligible to start borrowing on your own, you’ll see credit scores and reports as more lines of credit or loans are opened in your name. In some cases, you’ll also see scores and reports in your name if you’re added as an authorized user to someone’s account.
How to Establish and Maintain Good Credit
Building credit is a process. But that doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck if you’re just starting to establish credit and considered credit invisible. Here are just a few ways to build credit for the first time:
- Apply for a credit card. If you don’t have a credit history, you might want to consider applying for a secured credit card. Secured means you give a security deposit to the credit card issuer in order to open an account. And building your credit through responsible use of a secured card can make you a better candidate for things like mortgages, car loans and even other credit cards.
- Become an authorized user. The CFPB notes, “Credit scores are based on experience over time.” So if someone like a friend or a family member has good credit, being added to their account as an authorized user could help you start a credit history.
Becoming an authorized user allows you to make purchases. But the primary account holder is ultimately responsible for payments.
Being an authorized user could allow you to benefit from the primary account holder’s credit history if the issuer reports the activity to credit bureaus. But negative actions could also be reported, which could affect the primary account holder’s credit and your credit, too.
- Take out a credit-builder loan. Credit unions may offer small loans that allow you to build your credit history. The lender deposits the loan amount in a locked savings account, and you make small payments over a fixed period to pay it back. Payments are reported to credit agencies to help you establish credit. And once the loan is paid off, you get access to the money in the savings account.
Your Starting Score Isn’t Your Forever Score
As you start your credit journey, remember there are ways to start positive financial habits right away to help you continue building to a better credit score.
Consider monitoring your credit to see how your most recently reported balance impacts your scores. CreditWise from Capital One is a free tool that lets you monitor your VantageScore® 3.0 credit score. Using CreditWise to keep an eye on your credit won’t hurt your score. And it’s free for everyone, not just Capital One customers.
You can also get free copies of your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus—Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®. Call 877-322-8228 or visit AnnualCreditReport.com to learn more. Keep in mind that there may be a limit on how often you can get your reports. You can check the site for more details.
Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.
We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.
Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models. It may not be the same model your lender uses, but it can be one accurate measure of your credit health. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your credit file at (or you do not have a file at) one or more consumer reporting agencies.