If your credit score is 600, things could be worse. After all, scores start at 300.
But things could also be a lot better. Scores lower than 630 are considered poor, so you might be denied for credit cards and loans or pay high interest rates for the ones you do receive. A low credit score signals to lenders that you're more likely to default on your debts.
A little more than 10% of credit scores fall in the 600-649 range, while almost 12% are between 550 and 599, according to March 2016 data from credit bureau Experian.
The effect a 600 score will have on your financial life depends on whether you're actively improving your credit or have been struggling.
First, find out why
If you're not sure why you have a low score, check your credit reports. You can get a free report once per year from each of the three credit-reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
Maybe mistakes on your reports have dragged down your score. If your information has been mixed with someone else's, for instance, that's a fairly easy problem to fix. Simply dispute the errors with the credit bureau.
Most people who have scores of 600 or lower, though, have a history of making late payments or failing to pay at all, according to Jeff Richardson, spokesman for VantageScore, one of the two main credit scoring agencies. "Most often those with very low scores have had a number of delinquencies, which leads to a default, combined with a high utilization" of their available credit, he says.
What it means if you're at 600 and rising
If you've been building your credit and have made it to 600, you might qualify for some products that were out of reach before, but you'll pay more to borrow than you would if your score were higher. Still, if your options until now have been truly terrible, these less-than-stellar terms might feel like a godsend.
Here's what to expect:
You might now qualify for an apartment, although your chances will improve if you can get your score up to at least 620. The landlord determines the minimum acceptable score.
If you want a credit card, consider an alternative: "Consumers with poor credit scores -- less than 630 -- are generally best off with a secured credit card," says NerdWallet credit card expert Sean McQuay. These cards require you to make an upfront deposit that serves as collateral in case you don't pay, and they generally have an annual fee. A retail card is another possibility; some discount stores, in particular, might have lower credit score requirements than banks do.
If you want to buy a car, you won't get the best rates, but dealerships are accustomed to credit-challenged customers, says NerdWallet auto writer Phil Reed. Chances are you can get some wheels if you have enough income to make payments. "Auto loans are different, with a bit more flexibility than other loans, mainly because the car is the collateral," Reed said. His advice: Be patient and compare offers. Loans targeted at those with subprime credit can be unreasonably costly.
You can probably get a personal loan, but the interest rate might be 20% or higher, says NerdWallet personal loans writer Amrita Jayakumar. Some lenders -- including Avant, OneMain Financial and Ascend -- will consider applications from borrowers with 600 scores. Then there's Peerform, a marketplace lender that matches poor-credit borrowers with investors who fund their loans, and Backed, which gives those with poor credit better terms if they have a co-signer, she says. "Lenders like Upstart consider college grads whose score may be low because of a thin credit file," she adds.
What it means if you're at 600 and dropping
If you're at 600 and struggling not to drop further, your situation is different. Maybe you've had a series of late payments or have debts in collections. These are signs that your financial situation is unstable.
Here's what to know:
You might have heard that borrowing money and repaying it is a good way to build credit, and that's true. But taking on debt you can't afford won't help. If you want to borrow money because you have bills you can't cover, it's possible credit counseling or bankruptcy would be better solutions.
Only apply for credit if you're relatively confident you'll be approved. Every application -- whether you're approved or not -- can cause a small, temporary drop in your credit score, and those can add up. You don't want to lose the points without getting the credit.
The very best thing you can do is pay all your debts on time and whittle down the balances on your credit cards. (Experts recommend using no more than 30% of your overall limit, and less is even better.) If you do that and keep accounts open, you'll start building your credit score -- and eventually become eligible for credit products with friendlier terms.
Bev O'Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BeverlyOShea.