How I Got the Highest Credit Score by Age 45

If you're competitive at heart or just a natural-born overachiever, you may be someone who likes to aim for the stars. Yet when it comes to credit scores, earning an 850, the highest score possible, isn't such an easy task. That said, if you're committed and willing to have a little patience, it is an achievable goal.

John-UlzheimerCourtesy John Ulzheimer

A little background information

In many ways, John Ulzheimer is just a regular guy. He enjoys long distance running, Mexican food, and watching sports on the weekends with his family. When it comes to credit, however, Ulzheimer is a master.

Ulzheimer is literally a credit expert by trade. He started his career in the credit industry immediately after graduating from college. In 1991, he began working with the credit reporting giant Equifax. After being employed by Equifax for several years, Ulzheimer went on to work for Fair Isaac Corporation, creators of the FICO Score. For the last 15 years, Ulzheimer has served as a credit expert witness in credit-related lawsuits and has given testimony in more than 350 lawsuits.

Why the highest credit score was never a goal

Generic FICO credit scores and most VantageScore credit scores feature a range of 300 to 850; if you want to achieve perfection, 850 is the magic number you’re shooting for. Although earning the perfect credit score is certainly a brag-worthy achievement, it’s not something Ulzheimer had set as a goal for himself. Instead, the perfect score happened rather organically, after some 20+ years of perfect credit management history. Read on to find out how he breaks down the process which helped him to earn credit score perfection into four key steps.

1. Perfect payment history

If you want to earn the highest credit score possible, good payment history might not be enough. You need to strive for perfection. Ulzheimer says, “I’ve never missed a payment on anything, ever.”

A late payment won’t actually show up on your credit reports until you’re a full 30 days past the due date on your account. Your creditor, however, may consider you “late” and might assess a late fee if your payment is received even one day past the due date. (If you ever accidentally forget a payment, you can always call your creditor up and see if they are willing to waive the late fee.)

FICO bases 35 percent of your credit score points upon the payment history on your credit reports. VantageScore Solutions, another popular credit score brand in the U.S., also states that payment history is the most influential factor which impacts your credit scores. Check out these 10 ways a good credit score can save you hundreds.

2. Good credit card management habits

As a credit expert, Ulzheimer also understood the powerful influence that credit card accounts could have over his credit scores. You might not realize it, but an outstanding revolving balance on your credit card accounts from month to month has the potential to damage your credit scores, even if you’re always on time with your payments.

The FICO blog reveals that FICO High Score Achievers (aka those with a FICO Score of 800 or higher) utilized an average of 12 percent or less of their credit card limits.

Ulzheimer managed his revolving credit card utilization levels even better than that. “I started paying my credit card off in full by the statement close date rather than the due date.” Paying by the statement close date helped to ensure a $0 balance was reported by his card issuers to the three major credit bureaus each month.

3. Not applying for too much credit

Another rule of thumb which Ulzheimer follows is a commitment to not fill out too many applications for new credit. He isn’t afraid to seek new credit when he needs it (say, if he was financing a new car), but says, “I rarely apply for credit.”

Credit scoring models created by FICO and VantageScore both may consider how often your credit reports are checked by others (especially in association with applications for new credit). As a result, applying for new loans, credit cards, and even apartment leases could potentially have a negative impact on your scores.

You can check your own credit reports as often as you like, though; checking your own credit will never damage your credit scores. Here are 8 sneaky things that may actually lower your credit scores.

4. Give it time

In the United States, it seems like everyone is obsessed with looking and feeling younger; however, when it comes to the accounts on your credit reports, being older can be an asset. While credit scoring models don’t factor in your age, they do consider the age of your credit. With FICO, the length of your credit history determines 15 percent of your scores. Length of credit history (combined with the types of credit on your reports) is also highly influential over your VantageScore credit scores. When considering the types of credit on your reports, VantageScore likes to see that you have a good mixture of account types, such as installment loans (e.g. mortgages and auto loans) along with revolving accounts (e.g. credit cards).

The final factor which Ulzheimer attributes to helping him earn the highest credit score is time. “This was the last piece of the puzzle. Once my credit report hit 20+ years in age when I was 45 years old, I was regularly scoring 850. Now I’m bumping up against 850 almost constantly.” (Credit scores can fluctuate whenever any of the information on your credit report changes.) Ulzheimer also checks his personal credit every month, in part to make sure there are no errors. If you strive to achieve Ulzheimer’s level of credit success, you should also check out these 11 reassuring ways you can improve your credit score.

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Michelle L. Black
Michelle Black is a credit expert with over 16 years of experience in the industry and a freelance writer. She specializes in credit reporting, credit scoring, financing (mortgages, credit cards, loans), debt eradication, budgeting, saving, and identity theft. Michelle is also the founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com—a blog aimed at helping women support each other as they take charge of credit, money, family, and parenting issues in a safe, judgment-free space. She holds a Bachelor's of Arts in Spanish and French from Winthrop University. When she isn't writing about credit and money, Michelle enjoys traveling with her family and taking Tae Kwon Do classes with her two young children. She and her son currently hold first-degree black belts and her daughter is scheduled to join them, earning her black belt as well within the year.