The Perfect Credit Score: Understanding the 850 FICO Score

What do credit score high achievers have in common and what can we learn from the credit behavioral characteristics in these populations?

Some of the more frequent credit score related questions people ask are around the subject of a perfect FICO® Score: 

  • What is the perfect FICO® Score?
  • How can I get a perfect FICO® Score?
  • Does anyone have a perfect FICO® Score?
  • What’s the typical credit profile of someone who has a perfect FICO® Score?

FICO® Scores are a sequence of three-digit numbers ranging from 300-850*.  Each lender determines the score cutoff they require to approve a request for credit and to help them set the terms (interest rate, credit limit, etc.) of the credit being extended.  Typically, most lenders do not require an individual to have the highest credit score possible to secure the best loan features.  Instead, they set a high-end cutoff (typically in the upper 700’s) where those applicants scoring above that cutoff qualify as a good credit score and get these most favorable terms.

In other words, don’t sweat it if you are “only” an 800 as most lenders are likely to treat you the same if you score in the 800-850 range because your risk of not paying as agreed is very low in these highest FICO® Score ranges.

The percent of the population with an 850 credit score is relatively small, but has been increasing.  As of April 2019, about 1.6% of the U.S. scorable population had an 850 FICO® Score. That compares to 0.98% in April 2014 and 0.85% in April 2009. This slight uptick is not surprising as we have been seeing the average FICO® Score on the national population increasing as time since the “great recession” ages.

The top five states with the highest percentage of their respective populations with an 850 credit score has remained pretty consistent over the past ten years and that percentage has increased with each state over the time period as well. 

Percent of Population with 850 FICO Score

These states also tend to demonstrate other “high achiever” behaviors in areas such as having a healthier lifestyle and higher education levels which likely correlate with sound credit management behaviors.  According to Becker’s Hospital review, Hawaii, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Minnesota are in the top 10 states in terms of overall health rankings.  Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Minnesota are in the top 10 states for the percent of residents who have a bachelor’s degree.

We also looked into the top MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Area) to understand which cities have the highest percentage of their respective populations with an 850 credit score.  As shown in the table below, large metropolitan areas encompassing Boston, New York, San Francisco, southern California, and Washington DC consistently surface for having the “bragging rights” for the largest percent of residents with an 850 perfect credit score.  The data also shows that the percentage of the MSA’s population with an 850 credit score has increased over the time period as well. 

Percent of MSA Populations with 850 FICO Score

If you happen to have a “high achiever” personality and are focused on improving your good credit score to the "perfect" having an 850 FICO® Score, here are some credit behavioral characteristics we observed on the population with an 850 FICO® Score in April 2019:

  • Payment history accounts for 35% of a FICO® Score and, not surprisingly, we see that those with an 850 basically have no reported history of missed payments, collections or derogatory information.
  • Many people assume that to get an 850 you should have no credit debt.  In fact, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly to some, we see that the 850 profile has and uses credit with an average credit balance of ~$13,000 reported (mortgage balances excluded).  Their average revolving credit utilization tends to be relatively low compared to their available credit at 4.1%
  • Most have a very established credit history with the average age of their oldest account being 30 years old.
  • They are not all immune to seeking and opening new credit.  About 10% had one or more inquiries in the past year and about 1/4th had opened one or more new credit accounts in the past year.

While it’s true that having a high FICO® Score can increase your access to more affordable credit, an all-consuming focus on trying to have a “perfect” 850 FICO® Score won’t really change how lenders look at you as compared to other high scoring applicants. Instead of focusing on having a perfect credit score, you can work toward attaining a high FICO® Score by paying your bills on time and improving your payment history, keeping credit card balances low, and only applying for credit as needed.

 * Auto and Bankcard industry FICO® Score versions have a slightly wider credit score range of 250-900.  

How FICO Can Help You Understand the FICO Score:

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