What is a bad credit score?

Learn what could be considered a bad credit score and how it may affect you financially.

You may know that a good credit score can help you qualify for loans and credit cards. But what happens if your credit scores aren’t quite where you want them to be? 

Read on to learn about bad credit scores and how they might affect you, plus a few tips that may help you improve your score.

Bad or poor credit score ranges

A credit score represents “a snapshot of a person’s creditworthiness,” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says. And that’s why the CFPB says potential lenders might use your credit score to make decisions about things like approving loans and extending credit. 

Credit-scoring companies use different formulas, or models, to calculate credit scores. There are many different credit scores and scoring models. That means people have more than one score out there. Most range from 300 to 850, according to the CFPB. And the CFPB says some of the most commonly used credit scores come from FICO® and VantageScore®. 

But how they determine scores and their definitions of what constitutes poor credit differ. It’s important to remember that credit decisions—and what’s considered a bad score—are determined by potential lenders. But here are some more details about how FICO and VantageScore generally view credit scores.

Graph showing range of FICO Credit Scores. Poor credit is a score less than 580.

Source: MyFICO.com

Poor credit scores from FICO

FICO considers a credit score to be poor if it falls below 580. According to FICO, a person with a FICO score in that range is viewed as a credit risk. Why? Their research shows that about 61% of those with poor credit scores end up delinquent on their loans. 

This level of risk could make it difficult to get approved for credit cards, mortgages, car loans and more. A poor score can come with other consequences too. For example, you may need to pay a fee or put down a deposit to get a credit card or home utilities.

Graph showing range of VantageScore Credit Scores. Poor credit is a score less than 600.

Source: VantageScore.com

Poor credit scores from VantageScore

Like FICO, VantageScore credit scores range from 300 to 850. But how it judges scores is a little different. For example, VantageScore makes a distinction between poor and very poor credit scores. The company says a credit score is poor if it’s between 500 and 600, while a score from 300 to 499 is called very poor. 

“In general, people with higher scores can get more credit at better rates,” VantageScore says. So you could have trouble getting approved for higher-limit, low-interest cards if your credit score falls at 600 or below. 

What determines credit scores?

Scoring companies and models may be different, but scores have a few things in common. For starters, according to the CFPB, they’re all calculated based on data from credit reports

According to the CFPB, scoring models might incorporate the following information from your reports: 

  1. Payment history: How often you pay your bills on time.
  2. Account history: How long you’ve had credit and loans open.
  3. Debt: How much you owe across all accounts.
  4. Credit utilization: How much credit you use compared to your total available credit.
  5. Recent inquiries: How many times potential creditors have pulled your credit report, and how many new loans you have.
  6. Credit mix: How many kinds of credit you use, including credit cards and installment loans.

Keep in mind that past bankruptcies, foreclosures and collections activity may also figure into your credit score. And the CFPB says those things can sometimes affect scores for 10 years or longer. 

How bad credit can affect you

Everyone’s situation is different, but you can see how bad credit scores might affect you when you look at some of the places in life where credit can come into play and where higher scores might help:

  • Credit cards: With some improvement of your credit score, you might increase your chance of qualifying for cards with no fees and higher credit limits.
  • Loans and mortgages: A higher credit score could help you get approved for auto loans, mortgages and other types of loans. 
  • Interest rates: Interest is the price you pay for borrowing money. In many cases, a higher credit score could help with getting better interest terms. 
  • Rental applications: When you apply for a lease, your potential landlord could look at your credit to decide about leasing to you.
  • Employment applications: Potential employers sometimes pull credit reports during a background check. But they have to get permission from you first.
  • Insurance premiums: In some states, your credit history could influence the cost of things like car insurance.
  • Deposits: A stronger credit score might allow you to skip security deposits to set up service with utility companies and cellphone providers.

That’s just a quick look at the importance of credit. If you’re not satisfied with your credit scores, there are steps you can take to improve them.

Ways to help improve bad credit scores

With time, credit scores can improve. In general, you can help yourself by committing to responsible credit use and good financial habits. Here are some strategies that might help:

  1. Review your credit report. Your credit scores get calculated from data in credit reports. You can get a sense of where you stand by requesting free copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. CreditWise from Capital One is another tool that could help. You can monitor your credit without hurting your score. And it’s free for everyone, not just Capital One customers.
  2. Pay your bills on time and catch up on overdue bills. Your payment history plays the biggest part in some FICO and VantageScore credit-scoring models. The CFPB says getting current on payments and making on-time payments from now on could help improve your credit score. If you’re unable to pay your bills, consider reaching out to your lender about what options might be available.
  3. Become an authorized user. Trust can be a major factor if someone makes you an authorized user because the original cardholder is responsible for the bill. The CFPB says being an authorized user could help your credit if the card’s activity is reported to credit bureaus and the card is used responsibly. But things like missed payments could have negative effects on both you and the original cardholder.
  4. Consider a secured credit card. With secured credit cards, you’re required to put down a security deposit before you start to spend. Some credit card companies report secured card activity to credit bureaus. If approved for a secured card, you could help your credit score by using the card responsibly. That means doing things like making on-time payments and paying at least the minimum payment each month. If you’re able to pay off your entire statement balance at the end of each month, the CFPB says you may be able to avoid paying interest charges.
  5. Keep some of your credit available. Your credit utilization—the percentage of your available credit that’s in use—can also affect your credit score. The CFPB recommends using 30% or less of your credit limits across all your accounts. 

Building your credit responsibly

You’re not alone if you have a less-than-perfect credit score. Looking for a chance to adopt new habits that could help your score? You could start by learning more about what it takes to rebuild your credit or get a credit card if you have bad credit.

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.

See if you’re pre-approved

Check for pre-approval offers with no risk to your credit score.

Get started

Related Content

Money Management

The importance of credit