We know many consumers damaged their credit score during the recession. A study released in July 2010 found that more U.S. credit scores are below 600as of April 2010, , a score that’s considered subpar by FICO, the company responsible for our current credit model. It’s funny to consider that a score of 600 doesn’t seem far off from a perfect 850. Still, this got us thinking— just how low can a credit score actually go? Can it hit zero?
Technically, the answer is no. You can score 300, which, according to FICO spokesperson Barry Paperno, is the credit model’s equivalent to a zero.
“The distribution of FICO scores is between 300 and 850,” Paperno says. “That’s just the way the model is built. It’s not built to deliver a zero.”
Fortunately for consumers, hitting rock bottom isn’t easy to do.
Take Seattle resident Mark Mitchell Johnson. He watched his score steadily plummet after a series of poor investments led him to accumulate nearly $300,000 in debt back in 2007. But despite a foreclosure, debt management plan and ultimate bankruptcy, his score never reached the 300s.
“[It] hit a low of 471 from Experian,” Johnson recalls. “I don’t know what I could have done to get it any lower.”
That answer is a bit more complicated. FICO tabulates credit scores using five criteria: your past payment practices (how well you pay your bills); your debt to credit ratio; the length of your credit history; the number of accounts you’ve opened and, finally, the type of accounts you’ve opened.
In order to receive a 300, you would have to a find a way to bottom out in each category. This means, as Paperno explains, you would need to open up a bunch of new credit cards, max them out almost immediately, file for bankruptcy the very next day and then head back out and apply for more credit cards.