Every time a U.S. citizen utilizes credit – whether it be applying for a bank loan, making a mortgage payment, or buying something with a credit card – it has an impact on that person’s credit score. A credit score, or FICO score, rates how safe it is for a lender to loan a particular person money. A low credit score can make it difficult to borrow money, or increase the interest rate that is charged.
The United States government also utilizes credit. Since it is not an individual person, it is not issued a FICO score. But if it was given a credit score, what would that score be? We can look at the factors that go into calculating a FICO score and estimate what the United States credit score would be.
Credit Score Factors
Credit score calculations are determined by five different factors:
- Payment history, which makes up 35% of the score.
- Debt level, which is 30% of the score.
- Length of credit history, which is 15%.
- Types of credit used, which is 10%.
- New credit inquiries, which is also 10%.
How does the U.S. rate on each factor?
The United States has a very good history of paying its bills on time, and has the ability to literally print more money if needed to pay off a loan. That is why Treasury securities, which are used by the government to borrow money, are considered to be such a safe investment.
Contrary to popular belief, though, the U.S. does not have a completely spotless payment history. It has effectively defaulted on loans at least twice. The first was way back in 1790, when the new government refused to pay back its domestic debts, or money owed to U.S. citizens. The other occurred in 1933, when the government refused to pay its debts off with gold (as it was legally required to do at the time) and changed the law so that it could pay with paper money at a cheaper rate.
Those are considered minor exceptions to the rule, though, so the U.S. would rate fairly high on this metric.
The U.S. currently owes about $16,000,000,000,000 ($16 trillion). That is a huge number, and it is growing at a fast rate, having doubled in the past seven years.
When talking about countries, it is more meaningful to look at the debt level as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), since that takes into account the size of the country. The U.S. does have the largest GDP in the world, at over $15 trillion, but the country’s debt level has now surpassed that and currently sits at just over 100% of GDP.
For personal credit scores, the credit rating companies look at your total credit limit and how much of that limit you are currently borrowing. The U.S. government sets its own official credit limit, and can raise it at any time. It tends to wait until it reaches that limit before raising it, though, and using close to 100% of your credit limit is bad for your credit score.
Length of Credit History
The U.S. has been borrowing money for over 200 years, which would work in its favor when calculating credit scores. There are countries, including many in Europe, that have been in existence much longer than that and have a longer credit history. Still, the U.S. would rate fairly high on this measure.
Types of Credit Used
Having experience with multiple types of credit is considered a positive when calculating credit scores. The government has used many different types of debt, which would help its score. But that also means it owes money to a lot of different lenders, which would hurt its score.
New Credit Inquiries
When you apply for a loan, the lender will check your credit score. Having a lot of recent credit inquiries will lower your score. The U.S. has been adding more than $1 trillion in new debt each year, which represents a lot of new loans. So, it would rate poorly on this credit score factor.
The United States gets points for its good history of paying on time, 200-year credit history, and experience with multiple types of credit. However, it would score very few points for its high debt level, high number of creditors, and the amount of new debt that it has been acquiring.
Based on these factors, experts estimate that the U.S. would have a FICO score of about 620. Compared to the average citizen’s score of about 700, the U.S. government’s credit score would be considered “fair” or “poor.” And that score is on the decline as it continues to add debt, as evidenced by last year’s S&P downgrade of U.S. credit.
This article was written by Chase Sagum, author and blogger covering Financial and Political topics.