Bankers helped enrich the lives of more than 130,000 American children by participating in Get Smart About Credit Day during October. The American Bankers Association Education Foundation and its partner banks staged financial literacy events in over 450 communities. The sessions gave bank employees and other volunteers the chance to share financial education tips ranging from learning how credit reports work to managing monthly credit card statements.

In a statement to reporters, ABA President and CEO Frank Keating emphasized the importance of volunteer efforts to help young people gain access to financial education. The ABA offered participants of all ages a "credit road map" designed to help Americans manage money effectively through five stages:

  • Start with a credit card. Credit cards for limited credit may offer small credit lines, but responsible account management will attract better deals.
  • Make a large down payment on a car loan.
  • Budget for an affordable home loan.
  • Get involved in kids' credit decisions.Don't co-sign for student credit cards without setting clear expectations.
  • Live within your means for an easy retirement.

Researchers from credit scoring company FICO revealed that following the ABA's road map can help consumers become "high achievers." FICO uses the term to classify Americans with the top 25 percent of all credit scores. According to FICO spokesman Anthony Sprauve, high achievers often share some key traits:

  • They manage an average of seven credit cards, but only typically carry balances on four active accounts at a time.
  • They use an average of just 7 percent of their available credit.
  • They almost never skip monthly credit card payments: only 4 percent of high achievers reported missing a bill. Even those missed payments happened, on average, more than 4 years ago.
  • They seldom open new accounts. The average high achiever account was 11 years old, with many consumers in this group staying loyal to a particular account for more than 25 years.

It's not impossible to earn a high FICO score with some dings on a credit report, researchers said. Collections activity appeared on 1 percent of high achievers' files, while 1 in 9000 experienced tax liens or bankruptcy. Sprauve told reporters that making consistent payments contributes the most to a strong FICO score.