A lot of people ask me about credit ratings and more relevantly how to improve their credit score. In truth, I am not really qualified to give financial advice such as this - whether it is about improving your credit score, or any sort of financial investment - so my advise would always be to talk to somebody qualified. So I did - and went to talk to a friend of mine who is a financial advisor and this is what he told me:
Bear in mind that the guidance below is general and is likely to vary from country to country so my advice, as always, is to go and seek financial advice in your local area
First of all did you know that you can get a copy of your credit report? Your credit report is different to your credit score in that it contains details of all your credit, your payments, your limits, and whether you have made payments on time. your credit score tends to be a "rating" or a number which determines how creditworthy you are. In the UK it is a "score" of 0-999 where high is good!
If you are looking to improve your credit score then you should really know what it is first (it may not be as bad as you think it is), and then you use your credit report to work out how to increase your score.
So the first step to improving your credit score is to go and obtain a current copy of your credit report.
There are many systems and companies out there that'll advertise a "free" credit report - some will offer a free trial which should be all you need to know to get going. Be wary of paid programs or recurring memberships as they may enrol you for stuff you don't need - they may benefit you but read the small print.
In the UK and US Equifax and Experian are the two main sources of credit report and it is worth getting a report from both of these - you should be able to get your report directly for a small fee - sometimes they offer a free trial - but check out the guidance wherever you live.
Here are some general tips and techniques for improving your credit score, that can help you raise your credit score wherever you are. Remember to tailor them to your specific situation.
1. Keep some unused accounts open.
Closing unused accounts is a common myth when it comes to improving your credit score. In fact, closing accounts can actually hurt your score. Why? Because a part of your score is calculated by determining how much debt you have versus how much available credit you have.
If you close out your available credit, your debt becomes a larger percentage of the credit available to you and may lower your score (ironically).
On the other hand, old unused cards can be a fraud risk so would suggest leaving one or two accounts open with a significant amount of credit available and close the rest (if you can!)
2. Spread out your debts.
You can improve your score by spreading your debt among credit cards even if your debt remains exactly the same. This is because a credit card that's almost maxed out is more likely to be detrimental to your score. Consider transferring that balance to one or more other credit card accounts.
3. Pay on time.
This is an obvious tip, but one that's still worth mentioning. Make sure you pay all of your accounts on time. Even one slip up may affect your score.
If you have trouble remembering to pay on time, consider setting up some kind of reminder or get standing orders or direct debits setup through your bank.
4. Avoid applying for too many cards at once.
Your score can be affected if you fill out too many credit applications over a short period of time. While you can acquire multiple cards over time, it's just not a good idea to sign up for too many of them at once. This makes you look desperate for any kind of credit, especially if you are rejected.
5. Watch out for scams.
It's so easy to fall victim to a scam these days. Some scammers are so creative and seem so trustworthy that even the smartest people can be drawn into their scams. If you want help with debt consolidation, consider contacting the government. Don't trust any independent company without lengthy research.
6. Use credit occasionally but regularly.
Even if you prefer to use cash, you should still have at least one credit card account that you use occasionally.
Believe it or not, when it comes to using credit, no credit can be just as detrimental as bad credit as there is very little history to base decision on. Chances are you'll want some good credit eventually, especially when it comes time to purchase cars or homes or applying for cell phones
7. Be truthful and accurate and consistent when applying for credit.
Don't falsify any information when it comes to checking or applying for credit. Also, double check your applications for any mistakes you may have made. Any misstatements will very likely be caught, so it's not worth the risk.
Be consistent in the information you give when applying for credit - always give the same address - it helps if you have lived there for a number of years.
And give your landline number not your mobile number as this implies a certain "stability"
8. Check your credit score regularly
You can check your credit score once per year without any penalty't and I would suggest checking it every 3-6 months. It won't change much on a day by day basis so view your credit improvement as a long term venture
Take the time to stay on top of your credit. It's such a huge part of your life - whether you like it or not - and it deserves your attention. With regular checks, you'll be the first to know if there's something that needs to be taken care of.
9. Make sure you know your own countries requirements
For instance in the UK if you are not on the electoral roll - registered as a voter - then you will have great difficulty obtaining credit
Find out whether there are any such requirements in your country and comply with that requirement
10. Work to correct any issues on your report
There may be errors or issues on your credit report which are causing you credit issues and - by working with the credit reference agencies - you can get them corrected.
Here are some common ones
- Name, address, dependents - sometimes dependents with poor credit records can affect yours
- Late payments - there may be valid reasons for a late payment or non payment and if this is the case it is possible to get a note on your credit file with that explanation
- Identity issues - anyone taking out credit in your name will be hilighted on your report so you can take action. This is actually a really important benefit of obtaining your credit report
- Check any legal action taken against you
Take your credit report and if there are any issues you can fix then take action to fix them!
Improving your credit score through the information on your report can save you a lot of money, time,frustration and embarrassment. Get in the habit of using these strategies, actively manage your credit, and over time you will see your credit score improving.