Most of us don’t really know much about our credit score. It’s either something we know exists but avoid thinking about, or something we know nothing about. Unfortunately however, it's quite important.
Your credit report decides what credit cards, loans and mortgages you have access to, and what interest rate you'll pay on the ones you can get. It can even decide if you’re allowed to rent a home or where you can get a job. The information in your credit report is held by three credit agencies that lenders, landlords and employers use to decide if you’re reliable.
So, what can turn a good credit score bad? A lot of different things affect your credit score. But you need to watch out for the following:
- Getting trigger happy and applying for too much credit too quickly (especially applying for credit right after you’ve just been refused).
- Being forgetful and missing payments on loans, bills and credit cards.
- Having no borrowing history – a record of debt is in fact good for your finances.
- Not having enough official information recorded about you.
Never fear though, there are always ways you can work to get it back on track. Here are my top six tips to help you crank up your credit score.
Well, you don’t actually have to vote (even though you really should), but registering to vote should help improve your credit score. This is because the electoral role is used as a way of checking your identity and verifying your address, so lenders can be sure that you are who you say you are.
2. Pay bills and utilities in your name
Nobody likes paying bills - if there was such a thing as an anti-birthday card it would probably be a bill - but getting your name on some household bills will help your credit score by showing that you have a history of being able to meet debts. As long as you pay them that is!
3. Ensure ex-partners or former housemates aren't pulling down your score
We’ve all had that ex (or former housemate) we wish we could forget about - but sometimes, even if you’ve moved on your credit report might not have. If you have a joint account with an ex-partner, or shared bills with a former housemate, and they miss payments on the account or max out the credit, your credit score could be damaged. When a relationship is over it’s wise to close any joint accounts as soon as you can. Also make sure your name is taken off any shared bills when you move out of shared accommodation.
4. Check your three credit reports
There are three big credit report agencies that keep an eye on you: CallCredit , Experian and Equifax . Lenders will go to any of these three to get your score and decide to offer you credit. It’s worth checking your credit report at least once a year with one of these agencies, making sure it's error free and up to date. If you’ve got a good score with one, chances are it’ll be good with all of them. But mistakes happen. So if you’ve been refused credit and you don’t know why, it could be down to a mistake on one of your three reports.
Unfortunately, it does cost money to check your report. Luckily, if you get your statutory credit report it's only £2 per provider. The credit agencies offer monthly paid services, which can be good if you want alerts, but may not be necessary if you just want to spot any mistakes.
5. Build a history
Get a credit card, spend a little on it, and pay it back in full each month. Using a credit card responsibly is a quick way to build up a credit score. Unfortunately, that word 'responsibly' is the key – use a credit card badly and you'll make your score worse. Responsible lending means never spending more than you can afford to pay back each month or, at the very least, never missing the minimum repayment you need to make each month. You should also makes sure not to use a credit card to buy things you wouldn’t normally be able to afford. A £2,000 card limit shouldn't mean a trip to Oxford Street, no matter how tempting it sounds.
6. Close old credit cards and current accounts you are no longer using
Your credit file is like anything else in life – you need to keep tabs on it. Getting rid of old cards you’re not using is just sensible credit spring-cleaning. Having access to too much unused credit can affect your credit score, as it can make lenders nervous that you could get into thousands of pounds of debt that afternoon, if you wanted to. It can even act as a flag for being a fraudster if you’re applying for credit when you already have access to several credit cards.
Do you think credit reports are confusing and the industry is not transparent enough? Join the It’s My Report campaign and sign the petition fighting for free annual access to your credit report.
To hear more useful financial tips and tricks from uSwitch Money Expert, David Mann, head here .