What is a credit score, and how can you improve yours?
Your credit score or credit rating is a number that’s calculated using information from your financial records. It’s used to give lenders an idea of how you’ve managed credit in the past, and to indicate how well you’d manage repayments if they were to lend to you.
The higher your credit score, the better your chances of being offered loans like car finance, credit cards, and a mortgage.
The records used to calculate your score will include things like how much credit you have, and how consistent you’ve been at paying it back. It also includes information such as whether you’ve ever been declared bankrupt, or had any county court judgements (CCJs) against you.
What is a credit report and what does it include?
A credit report is a summary of how you’ve handled credit in the past. It’s used by lenders to decide whether to give you a loan, and what terms are the best fit for your situation.
A credit report will include basic personal information, such as your name, address, and date of birth.
It will also include information on any past credit you’ve been given, such as credit cards or car loans. It will assess how much you borrowed and when, and your payment history.
If you’re applying for a loan with someone else, such as a joint mortgage, credit referencing agencies will make a note on your file that you’re associated with that person. However, this won’t necessarily affect your individual score.
A credit report will also include a record of past bankruptcies, or if collection agents have ever been used to recoup money owed. That could be for any kind of contract, such as a mobile phone.
What impacts your credit score?
Experian, one of the three main credit rating agencies in the UK, says a track record of borrowing and repaying money, plus a history of managing money responsibly, will contribute to a good credit score.
If you’ve taken a loan and paid it back with the agreed terms, this will be good for your credit score. If you’ve missed repayments, this will negatively impact your score.
The ratings agencies all use the electoral register to confirm your address, so you should make sure you’re on the electoral roll, even if you live at home with your parents, or in student accommodation.
Always being close to your credit limit is another red flag for ratings agencies, along with applying for credit too often. It could suggest you regularly spend more than you can afford.
Similarly, having no credit history could also mean your credit rating is low. If you’ve never borrowed money, then you haven’t given yourself a chance to show how you’d handle repayments and build up your score.
Your credit score shouldn’t be affected by previous occupants of your address. But, if a credit referencing agency is associating your address with someone that’s since moved out, and it’s impacting your score, you should be able to correct this by contacting the credit referencing agency.
Experian says most agencies focus their scoring on applicants’ more recent handling of credit, and your score shouldn’t be affected by information more than about six years old.
What is a good credit score to have?
There’s no magic number that you need to hit to guarantee yourself a loan. Different credit rating agencies use different scoring systems, so when checking your score, you’ll be able to check the rating scale they use to get an idea of what your score means.
A higher score increases the likelihood you’ll be offered a mortgage, but credit scores are just one of the factors lenders use to make this decision. Your income and your Loan-To-Value (LTV) ratio - which compares how much you borrow with a mortgage loan, to how much you pay as a deposit – will also be considered, along with other affordability criteria.
READ MORE: How much can I borrow with a mortgage ?
How can I do a credit score check, and how much will it cost?
There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can check your credit score via any of their websites. They hold data about your financial history, such as any debts you already have. This is known as your statutory credit report.
This report is then used to generate a score to show your creditworthiness.
Each reference agency has its own numbering system, but a higher score means you’re more likely to have your loan application approved.
How can I improve my credit score?
There are lots of things you can do to improve your credit score. They include:
Pay bills on time
Equifax’s top tip is to try to pay all bills on time. This includes credit card bills, as well as things like phone and utility bills. Setting up direct debits is a good idea, so that payments are taken automatically. And if you do have any debts, pay them off as quickly as you’re able to.
Keep credit card balances low
If you have credit cards, keeping balances low, paying bills on time and not appearing too reliant on credit will be good for your credit score. But just as relying heavily on credit can be bad news, having a very limited credit history can make it hard for you to prove yourself capable of handling a loan.
Check your personal details are correct
Sometimes your credit rating can be negatively impacted because of mistakes in your credit report, including missing information or an incorrect address. So it’s a good idea to make sure the information companies hold about you is correct and up to date.
If you spot an error, you can ask for it to be amended, or for a note to be added to your report explaining the error.
Do credit checks affect my credit score?
It depends. There are two different types of records that are left when you apply for loans or credit. These are known as ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ credit checks.
What is a soft credit check?
A soft credit check happens when you’re shopping around for different deals available. A company will do the check as part of your enquiry about credit or insurance, or if your current lenders (or creditors) are doing a periodic review.
For instance, applying for a Mortgage in Principle (provided by Nationwide) involves a soft credit check.
No record is left on your file for these soft checks, also known as a ‘soft footprint’, and the information shared is only for you. These checks won’t affect your credit score.
What is a hard credit check?
A hard credit check is when you’ve made a full application for credit. This could be for a full mortgage application, or a credit card. The company you’ve applied for credit from will need to review your credit report. These enquiries are recorded for up to two years, and if you were turned down for the loan you applied for, that could negatively impact your credit score.
Companies need to make it clear if any of the products they’re offering you will involve a hard credit check, which will have a lasting record on your credit file. You should be able to find this in their terms and conditions, or by asking a representative of the company whether applying for one of their products will leave a record, or ‘hard footprint’.