Your credit score can influence everything from the mobile phone you use to the home you live in – so it’s worthy of some care and attention.
Here we explain how credit scoring works, look at why it matters so much, and suggest what you can try if your score needs a boost.
What is a credit report?
Your credit report carries up-to-date information on you (are you on the Electoral Roll? do you have any County Court Judgments against you?) and any credit-linked products you’ve got or have had recently. This includes mortgages, loans, credit cards, overdrafts and other debt-based agreements.
It’s maintained over a rolling six-year period, and records how well you’ve managed these credit products in terms of making payments on time and in full. It also notes how many times you’ve applied for products (more on this later).
This information is used to compile a credit score which rises and falls according to your financial behaviour. The purpose of a credit report is to demonstrate to financial providers whether you’re the kind of customer they want to lend to – and, if so, on what terms.
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Why is your credit report so important?
Having a bad credit score can range from being inconvenient to life-changing.
It could mean you are rejected for everyday credit agreements including mobile phone contracts, pay-monthly insurance and even some energy deals – in short, any service you receive before paying for it.
But a poor score could also leave you unable to get a mortgage to buy your own home or replace the family car.
And even where you can get access to credit, a poor score might mean you’re offered less advantageous terms. For example, when a lender uses an interest rate in a product advertisement, it only has to offer it to 51% of successful applicants – the other 49% can be charged more for the same product.
What information is on my credit report?
Your credit report will list the following details:
- active credit accounts such as mortgages, credit cards, overdrafts and loans – and if there are any late or missed payments or defaults
- recently closed or settled credit accounts
- credit agreements such as mobile phone contracts and car finance
- Payments to Buy Now Pay Later services (which allow you to opt to spread the cost of an item interest-free over a number of months) could influence your score from as early as 2023. Your payment behaviour can be tracked before this, however. BNPL firm Klarna will share data with Experian and Transunion from June 2022, for example
- personal details such as your name, date of birth and current and past addresses
- the names of anyone you have a financial association with – such as a joint mortgage or bank account
- public record information such as County Court Judgments (CCJs) against you, bankruptcies and individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs)
- whether you have committed fraud or have been the subject of fraud through stolen identity
- whether you are on the electoral register.
If you are a renter and sign up with payment platform CreditLadder, you will have the opportunity to share details of your rental payment history across all three of the biggest credit reference agencies – Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Canopy does a similar thing but shares data just with Equifax and Experian.
With both platforms, you’ll be able to report your rental history to one agency free of charge. However, there’s a monthly fee to share rental data across any more agencies.
Alternatively, if you’re a council or social housing tenant, you can sign up to a free scheme called The Rental Exchange, which shares rental payment history with Experian only.
Using rental payments to build up your credit history can put you in a better position to get credit in the future, such as for a mortgage to buy your own home.
Where is my credit report held?
Your credit report is held by credit reference agencies. The three main agencies most commonly used by the big lenders trying to figure out what sort of borrower you might be are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (formerly CallCredit).
Credit reference agencies are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and, because they hold such valuable and sensitive data on individuals, also by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The information each agency holds about you may vary slightly. However, there shouldn’t be too much discrepancy in terms of the picture they present of your eligibility as a borrower.
What scoring systems do credit reference agencies use?
Each credit reference agency employs its own system of scoring
- At Experian scores are marked out of a maximum 999.Above 960 is classed as ‘excellent’ while 560 or below is ‘very poor’
- At Equifax the maximum score available is 700. Above 465 is defined as ‘excellent’ and below 280 as ‘very poor’
- At TransUnion, the scoring system is out of 710 with 628 and above classed as ‘excellent’ and below 550 as ‘very poor’.
How do I access my credit report?
You have legal right to see information held about you in your credit report. Traditionally, this meant requesting copy of your statutory report by post for a nominal fee of around £2.
But since EU laws on privacy and data protection (GDPR) landed in 2018, all credit reference agencies must provide statutoryreportsfor free. It’s very quick and easy to do via the agencies’ websites.
Note, however, that ‘statutory’ means just a basic report – not a full-blown credit score.
If you want more detail, you can opt to pay a monthly subscription for an ‘always-on’ credit monitoring service which offers real-time access to your credit report and provides alerts when there’s been a search or change to your credit file.
Many financial companies, such as price comparison sites, will offer to provide your credit score through commercial links they have with the credit agencies. But they’ll just show you the score rather than provide access to the report itself.
They also provide ‘eligibility checks’ – see below.
How do I know which agency a lender will use?
A lender does not have to tell you which credit reference agency (or agencies) it uses when you apply for credit – only if your application is rejected.
Banks and other lenders also voluntarily share data between themselves, meaning they are privy to financial information about you from sources outside your credit report.
It’s also important to note that some lenders employ their own scoring systems which they use in place of a credit reference agency, or alongside it.
How do I get a good credit score?
As well as making all monthly credit repayments on time and in full, there are other measures you can take to either protect or improve your credit score.
Here are some tips, with a little insider knowledge from James Jones, head of consumer affairs at Experian – the UK’s largest credit reference agency:
- Register on the Electoral Roll.This is viewed by lenders as a mark of stability and could add a straight 50 points (out of a maximum 999) onto your credit score at Experian
- Keep credit card balances low.Your ‘credit utilisation’ rate refers to the percentage of available credit that you use – and the lower it is, the better. Credit utilisation is especially important around credit cards. Balances below 30% of your limit can translate into90 extra points at Experian, while using more than 90% of your credit card limit could wipe 50 points from your score
- Check all information is correct.If you spot anything on your credit report that is inaccurate, you can raise a dispute with the agency via your online report for free. This will involve an investigation and you may be required to provide evidence, but it could improve your credit score. This is different to a Notice of Correction, which is 200-word ‘explanation’ you are permitted to submit next to an entry on your report. Lenders must consider these notes but bear in mind they won’t improve your score and they can in fact slow down the credit application process
- Don’t make multiple applications for credit.This is a sure-fire way to raise suspicion among lenders and bring your score down. Staving off applying for any new credit for six months after your last application can boost your Experian score by50 points.
- Decouple from old financial ties.If you are associated with an ex-partner on your report who has bad credit, it will bring your score down too. Contact the relevant agency or agencies and get it updated.
- Keep some credit untouched.While switching products can be good practice for getting the best deals, keeping some lines of credit to ‘mature’ will help your score – just holding the same credit card for five years can add20 pointsto your Experian credit score.
- Use a credit score boosting service. See more details on this aspect of improving your credit score, below.
Using a credit score boosting service
Credit scoring as an industry is becoming increasingly sophisticated. And with the roll-out of open banking (an agreement banks and other providers to share data on customers), additional tools have become available with the designed to improve your credit score.
One example is Experian’s ‘Boost’ service which, according to the agency, could push up your credit score by up to 101 points.
Using open banking, Experian accesses your current account and rewards regular monthly payments such as Netflix, Spotify or those made into savings accounts such as ISAs.
However, while the service is free and can only positively affect your credit score (it won’t go down), there is no guarantee that yours will benefit, while not all providers will consider Boost as part of their lending assessment.
Other tools, such as LOQBOX, serve to address the absence of any borrowing history. The service works by setting up a regular monthly payment to LOQBOX for a loan that it essentially ‘locks away’ from you. Monthly repayments made are shared by LOQBOX with the three main credit reference agencies with a view to boosting your credit score.
After 12 months, the saved money is returned to you.
How long will information stay on my score?
Your credit report lists the last six years’ worth of financial data from live accounts or from when accounts are settled or closed – even bankruptcies and IVAs.
But all time is not equal. The more recent the negative activity, the heavier it will weigh on your score.
For example, if you’ve missed a credit card repayment in the last month, Experian could deduct 130 points off your score. But if the missed payment was a year ago, it could have no impact at all.
Bear in mind, however, that scoring calculations are frequently re-calibrated, so this is only an indication.
How can I gauge my eligibility for credit?
Credit referencing is a lot more transparent than it used to be – and consumers have both greater visibility and control over their credit reports.
Before applying for credit, run a quick check of your own credit score first to rule out any surprises. You can always sign up to a comprehensive version of your report and cancel within the free 30-day trial period.
Online eligibility tools offered by lenders and comparison websites are also a boon. These carry out ‘soft searches’ which are not visible on your credit report but offer an indication of whether you are likely to be accepted for a particular deal and, in some cases, even what interest rate you may be offered.
Common credit scoring myths
Finally, there are some common myths and misconceptions around credit scoring, which can be useful to dispel:
- “Numerous rejections are bad for your score…”Lenders don’t see rejections for credit – only applications. That said, numerous applications imply you have been turned down numerous times too.
- “It’s best to close credit card accounts you’re not using”In fact, lenders can prefer to see several lines of open credit that you are not utilising – it means you’re not dependent on one.
- “You can be added to a black list” There is no black list – just very poor credit scores.
- “A particular address can affect your credit score”Credit scores apply to people, not property. This means you will not be associated with your landlord, flatmates – or even your spouse – unless you have a financial association with them. It just matters that you are on the electoral roll.
- “Your salary is included in your credit report” Only credit agreements feature on your credit report, so your salary is not relevant and is not listed. By the same token, your current account balance will only feature if you’re overdrawn.
- “Checking my credit report will raise suspicion”Lenders cannot tell if you have checked your credit report.
- “Lending decisions hinge entirely on your credit score”Your credit score is very important, but lenders also employ their own more subjective ‘policy rules’. For example, if you’ve recently paid off a bad debt in full, while your score might not improve, it could be enough for the lender to show you a green light over a red one.
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Your race, color, religion, national origin, sex and marital status. US law prohibits credit scoring from considering these facts, as well as any receipt of public assistance, or the exercise of any consumer right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.What are 3 things a credit score ignores and why? ›
Your race, color, religion, national origin, sex and marital status. US law prohibits credit scoring from considering these facts, as well as any receipt of public assistance, or the exercise of any consumer right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.What is the best site to get all 3 credit reports? ›
You have the right to request one free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You may also be able to view free reports more frequently online.What are the 2 most important things on a credit report? ›
Of these factors, payment history and credit utilization are the most important information. Together, they make up more than 60% of the impact on your credit scores.What is credit repair loophole 609? ›
"The 609 loophole is a section of the Fair Credit Reporting Act that says that if something is incorrect on your credit report, you have the right to write a letter disputing it," said Robin Saks Frankel, a personal finance expert with Forbes Advisor.What are 2 things that hurt your credit score? ›
- Making a late payment.
- Having a high debt to credit utilization ratio.
- Applying for a lot of credit at once.
- Closing a credit card account.
- Stopping your credit-related activities for an extended period.
For a score with a range between 300 and 850, a credit score of 700 or above is generally considered good. A score of 800 or above on the same range is considered to be excellent. Most consumers have credit scores that fall between 600 and 750. In 2022, the average FICO® Score☉ in the U.S. reached 714.Do banks use TransUnion or Equifax? ›
In conclusion. Credit card issuers and lenders may use one or more of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—to help determine your eligibility for new credit card accounts, loans and more.Is TransUnion or Equifax better? ›
Is Equifax more accurate than TransUnion? Scores from Equifax and TransUnion are equally accurate as they both use their own scoring systems. Both credit agencies provide accurate scores, and whichever your lender opts for will provide suitable information.How do I unlock all 3 credit reports? ›
If you froze your credit report with each of the major credit bureaus — Experian™, Equifax® and TransUnion® — you'll need to contact all three individually. You may also need the PIN or password you received when you initially froze your credit. Keep in mind, a credit freeze and credit lock are different.
Payment history — whether you pay on time or late — is the most important factor of your credit score making up a whopping 35% of your score. That's more than any one of the other four main factors, which range from 10% to 30%.What are the 3 C's of credit? ›
Students classify those characteristics based on the three C's of credit (capacity, character, and collateral), assess the riskiness of lending to that individual based on these characteristics, and then decide whether or not to approve or deny the loan request.What five items appear in most credit reports? ›
The primary factors that affect your credit score include payment history, the amount of debt you owe, how long you've been using credit, new or recent credit, and types of credit used.What is the magic 11 word phrase? ›
In case you are wondering what the 11 word phrase to stop debt collectors is supposed to be its “Please cease and desist all calls and contact with me immediately.”What is the credit secret loophole? ›
A 609 Dispute Letter is often billed as a credit repair secret or legal loophole that forces the credit reporting agencies to remove certain negative information from your credit reports.How can I raise my credit score 100 points overnight? ›
- Get Your Free Credit Report. ...
- Know How Your Credit Score Is Calculated. ...
- Improve Your Debt-to-Income Ratio. ...
- Keep Your Credit Information Up to Date. ...
- Don't Close Old Credit Accounts. ...
- Make Payments on Time. ...
- Monitor Your Credit Report. ...
- Keep Your Credit Balances Low.
Lenders score your loan application by these 5 Cs—Capacity, Capital, Collateral, Conditions and Character. Learn what they are so you can improve your eligibility when you present yourself to lenders.What knocks down your credit score? ›
You Have Late or Missing Payments
Your payment history is the most important factor in your FICO® Score☉ , the credit scoring model used by 90% of top lenders. It accounts for 35% of your score, and even one late or missed payment can have a negative impact. So, it's key to make sure you make all your payments on time.
Paying your accounts regularly and on time will improve your score as you build a credit history. Missed payments, defaults and court judgments will stay on your credit report for six years. However, the impact of any missed payments or defaults will likely reduce as the record ages.Can you get a 900 credit score? ›
FICO® score ranges vary — either from 300 to 850 or 250 to 900, depending on the scoring model. The higher the score, the better your credit.
- Check your credit report. ...
- Pay your bills on time. ...
- Pay off any collections. ...
- Get caught up on past-due bills. ...
- Keep balances low on your credit cards. ...
- Pay off debt rather than continually transferring it.
Although ranges vary depending on the credit scoring model, generally credit scores from 580 to 669 are considered fair; 670 to 739 are considered good; 740 to 799 are considered very good; and 800 and up are considered excellent.Which credit score is the hardest? ›
- Exceptional Credit: 800 to 850.
- Very Good Credit: 740 to 799.
- Good Credit: 670 to 739.
- Fair Credit: 580 to 669.
- Poor Credit: Under 580.
Here's the short answer: The credit scores and reports you see on Credit Karma come directly from TransUnion and Equifax, two of the three major consumer credit bureaus. The credit scores and reports you see on Credit Karma should accurately reflect your credit information as reported by those bureaus.Who pulls Equifax only? ›
PenFed Credit Union is the only loan company that uses only your Equifax credit data. In most cases, you won't be able to determine beforehand which credit bureaus your lender will use. In some cases, lenders will pull your credit report from two or even all three major credit bureaus.Which of the 3 credit scores is most important? ›
FICO® Scores☉ are used by 90% of top lenders, but even so, there's no single credit score or scoring system that's most important. In a very real way, the score that matters most is the one used by the lender willing to offer you the best lending terms.Which credit score is used to buy a car? ›
The FICO score is the most widely used score for auto loans. The score ranges from 300 to 850. The score is calculated based on credit mix, payment history, amount owed, average credit history and available credit.Is Equifax stricter than TransUnion? ›
Neither score is more or less accurate than the other; they're only being calculated from slightly differing sources. Your Equifax credit score is more likely to appear lower than your TransUnion one because of the reporting differences, but a “fair” score from TransUnion is typically “fair” across the board.Why does the 15 3 credit hack work? ›
The 15/3 hack can help struggling cardholders improve their credit because paying down part of a monthly balance—in a smaller increment—before the statement date reduces the reported amount owed. This means that credit utilization rate will be lower which can help boost the cardholder's credit score.Should I check all 3 credit reports? ›
The best practice is to stagger checking the reports from each of the three major credit bureaus to get a consistent idea of your credit health. However, in some situations (such as fraud or denied applications), checking all three credit reports at once can be helpful.
- Build Your Credit File. ...
- Don't Miss Payments. ...
- Catch Up On Past-Due Accounts. ...
- Pay Down Revolving Account Balances. ...
- Limit How Often You Apply for New Accounts.
It's possible that you could see your credit scores drop after fulfilling your payment obligations on a loan or credit card debt. Paying off debt might lower your credit scores if removing the debt affects certain factors like your credit mix, the length of your credit history or your credit utilization ratio.What is #1 factor in improving your credit score? ›
Because payment history is the most important factor in making up your credit score, paying all your bills on time every month is critical to improving your credit.Will my credit score go down if I max my credit card? ›
A maxed-out credit card can lead to serious consequences if you don't act fast to lower your balance. When you hit your card's limit, the high balance may cause your credit scores to drop, your minimum payments to increase and your future transactions to be declined.What is the 20 10 Rule of credit? ›
The 20/10 rule of thumb is a budgeting technique that can be an effective way to keep your debt under control. It says your total debt shouldn't equal more than 20% of your annual income, and that your monthly debt payments shouldn't be more than 10% of your monthly income.Are car loans considered debt? ›
Some auto loans may carry a high interest rate, depending on factors including your credit scores and the type and amount of the loan. However, an auto loan can also be good debt, as owning a car can put you in a better position to get or keep a job, which results in earning potential.What kind of credit card can you get with bad credit or no credit score? ›
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card: Best for rebuilding credit. Self - Credit Builder Account with Secured Visa® Credit Card: Best for building credit with savings. Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Best secured card with rewards. Mission Lane Visa® Credit Card: Best unsecured card for bad credit.Does a credit check show your bank balance? ›
Bank transactions and account balances are not reported to the national credit bureaus and do not appear on your credit reports—but unpaid bank fees or penalties turned over to collection agencies will appear on your credit reports and hurt your credit scores.What kind of things build credit? ›
- Make your rent and utility payments count. ...
- Take out a personal loan. ...
- Take out a car loan. ...
- Get a credit builder loan. ...
- Make payments on student loans.
A credit reporting company generally can report most negative information for seven years. Information about a lawsuit or a judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. Bankruptcies can stay on your report for up to ten years.
- Don't Admit the Debt. Even if you think you recognize the debt, don't say anything. ...
- Don't provide bank account information or other personal information. ...
- Document any agreements you reach with the debt collector.
Debt collectors may not be able to sue you to collect on old (time-barred) debts, but they may still try to collect on those debts. In California, there is generally a four-year limit for filing a lawsuit to collect a debt based on a written agreement.What do I say to creditors if I can't pay? ›
Explain your current situation. Tell them your family income is reduced and you are not able to keep up with your payments. Frankly discuss your future income prospects so you and your creditors can figure out solutions to the problem.What should you not do to build credit? ›
- Failing to Establish Credit. You can't build credit, Harrah points out, unless you establish it in the first place. ...
- Making Late Payments. ...
- Using Too Much Credit. ...
- Using Only Credit Cards. ...
- Canceling Old Credit Accounts.
- Pay down your revolving credit balances. If you have the funds to pay more than your minimum payment each month, you should do so. ...
- Increase your credit limit. ...
- Check your credit report for errors. ...
- Ask to have negative entries that are paid off removed from your credit report.
- Check for errors on your credit report. ...
- Remove a late payment. ...
- Reduce your credit card debt. ...
- Become an authorized user on someone else's account. ...
- Pay twice a month. ...
- Build credit with a credit card.
- Make every payment on time. ...
- Keep your credit utilization low. ...
- Don't close old accounts. ...
- Pay off credit card balances. ...
- Ask your card issuer to increase your limit. ...
- Use the authorized user strategy. ...
- Put your bill payments to work. ...
- Use a rent reporting company.
For most people, increasing a credit score by 100 points in a month isn't going to happen. But if you pay your bills on time, eliminate your consumer debt, don't run large balances on your cards and maintain a mix of both consumer and secured borrowing, an increase in your credit could happen within months.How to rebuild credit from $500? ›
- Pay your bills on time. Payment history is an important factor in calculating your credit scores. ...
- Maintain a low credit utilization ration. ...
- Consider a secured credit card. ...
- Look into credit counseling.
The primary factors that affect your credit score include payment history, the amount of debt you owe, how long you've been using credit, new or recent credit, and types of credit used.
Account balances are too high. The balance you have on revolving accounts, such as credit cards, is too close to the credit limit. Your credit history is too short. You have too many accounts with balances.What are 3 bad reasons to use credit? ›
- Credit Discourages Self-Control.
- It Likely Means You Don't Have a Budget.
- Interest Is Expensive.
- Rates Can Rise on Unpaid Balances.
- A Poor Credit Score Hurts More Than Just Your Credit.
- Bad Habits Risk Your Relationships.
- Using Credit Leads to More Spending.
- It Can Lead to Bankruptcy.
The 4 Cs of Credit helps in making the evaluation of credit risk systematic. They provide a framework within which the information could be gathered, segregated and analyzed. It binds the information collected into 4 broad categories namely Character; Capacity; Capital and Conditions.What improves a credit score? ›
Factors that contribute to a higher credit score include a history of on-time payments, low balances on your credit cards, a mix of different credit card and loan accounts, older credit accounts, and minimal inquiries for new credit.What has the highest impact on credit score? ›
Payment history — whether you pay on time or late — is the most important factor of your credit score making up a whopping 35% of your score.Which is the most important credit score? ›
As noted earlier, the credit score that matters the most is your FICO Score, since it's used in the vast majority of lending decisions.Why is my credit score going down when I pay on time? ›
Why might my credit scores drop after paying off debts? Paying off debt might lower your credit scores if removing the debt affects certain factors such as your credit mix, the length of your credit history or your credit utilization ratio.What three moves can sabotage your credit score? ›
- Making Late Payments That Show For Years On Your Credit Report. ...
- Maxing Out Your Credit Cards. ...
- Not Paying Your Debts or Declaring Bankruptcy.
Not paying your bills on time or using most of your available credit are things that can lower your credit score. Keeping your debt low and making all your minimum payments on time helps raise credit scores. Information can remain on your credit report for seven to 10 years.Is it bad to have a credit card and not use it? ›
Credit card inactivity will eventually result in your account being closed, so it's a good idea to maintain at least a small amount of activity on each of your cards. A closed account can have a negative impact on your credit score so consider keeping your cards open and active whenever possible.
You finally used your credit card for a big purchase you've had your eye on, but now you're wondering if you should pay your credit card balance off in full. Generally, it's best to pay off your credit card balance before its due date to avoid interest charges that get tacked onto the balance month to month.When should you not use credit? ›
Don't Use Your Credit Card When You Can't Afford to Pay the Balance. This is arguably the number one time you shouldn't use your credit card. If you can't afford to pay for a purchase in cash, then you really can't afford to put it on your credit card.