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What Is a Prime Credit Score?

Prime credit is a term that is thrown out often in credit repair and lending circles, but what does it mean? A “prime” credit score is one that is just below “super-prime.” Since a super-prime credit score is reserved for those with the very best credit, a prime credit score is best understood as having  between “fair” and “good” to “very good” credit.

Consumers with prime credit scores are good candidates for credit cards, mortgages, and other loan products. Because they have good (or very good) credit, lenders are more willing to approve their applications – and give them favorable rates.

What Credit Score Is Considered Prime?

A prime credit score is one that ranges between approximately 660 and 719, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This range includes “fair credit” and “good credit” on the FICO scoring range.

While FICO is the preferred method for lenders (over 90% of lenders use FICO), VantageScore also offers a popular credit scoring model. On the VantageScore scale, a credit score of approximately 620 to 799 is considered prime. This means anyone in the “fair,” “good,“ or “very good” categories of the VantageScore model have prime credit.

How Many Americans Have Prime Credit?

Because a prime score covers such a large amount of credit scores, you might think that the vast majority of Americans have prime credit. Surprisingly, however, only about 28% of the U.S. population has prime credit scores, according to FICO data. In comparison, about 30% has poor credit (or no credit), and an eye-opening 42% have super-prime credit.

How Does Prime Credit Impact Your Interest Rates?

Prime credit is appealing to lenders. People with a credit score considered “prime” pose a significantly lower risk of default than those with subprime credit.

Because of this greater trustworthiness, applicants with good credit can anticipate qualifying for many credit cards. Only those cards with exclusive application processes, like some Barclays credit cards, American Express charge cards, and the Luxury Card range (the Mastercard Black Card, Titanium Card, and Gold Card) will be out of reach for prime scores.

In addition to better selection in credit cards (including rewards cards), prime applicants also get some of the best interest rates. While precise rates vary with the bank, those with prime scores are likely to save plenty on interest payments versus those with subprime scores (provided they carry similar balances and only pay the minimum balance each month).

Other Benefits of Prime Credit

Other noteworthy benefits of prime scores include:

  • Retaining your credit limits in recessions: Many banks lower cardholders’ credit limits in times of financial uncertainty. This practice improves the bank’s balance sheets and reduces their exposure to risky borrowers.
  • Excellent signup bonuses: Prime borrowers get exclusive signup bonuses when they receive a new credit card. These bonuses include lucrative travel points, 0% intro APR periods, and more. They may even receive retention bonuses when they keep their card after one year.
  • Getting the best refinance rates: People with good credit have no trouble finding the best refinancing rates from mortgage lenders, or for things like auto or personal loans.

Prime Vs. Super-Prime

While prime is excellent, super-prime credit scores receive the top-end signup bonuses, lowest APRs, and access to the most exclusive credit cards. According to most experts, a prime borrower can expect to pay around 1% more on interest than a super-prime borrower for the same loan. That might not sound like much, but on a mortgage, that can add up to thousands of dollars.

How Do I Raise My Subprime Credit Score?

People with the best credit scores aren’t there through sheer luck. Having excellent credit takes patience and hard work.

The best way to raise your credit score is by ensuring you make your payments on time each month. Payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO credit score – by far the largest factor. Nearly as important is keeping your overall credit use low. Credit use (also known as credit utilization) accounts for 30% of your FICO score.

To move from subprime to prime, pay your credit card bills in full every month. If that’s not possible, try to pay as much as you can. You should make every effort to at least pay your required minimum payment – and keep your credit usage below 30%. For quicker results, keep credit use below 10%.

If your credit score is well-below par (in the low 600s or worse) consider getting a secured credit card, like the OpenSky Visa, to boost your payment history. Another option is a catalog card, such as the Group One Platinum, Horizon Gold, or Fingerhut Cards. These cards come with an unsecured line of credit and regularly report payment activity to the major credit bureaus.

Related Article: 7 Tips to Quickly Build Your Credit Score

About: Cory
Cory Santos

Cory is BestCards.com's "Jack of all trades" and resident rewards expert, covering all facets of the points game – especially travel, hotels, and airlines. In addition to credit cards, Cory finds that jogging, cats, and memes are essential parts of a balanced day.