Improving Your Credit Score
Your credit score is a number that lenders – whether it's a mortgage, credit card or short-term loan – can use to work out the risk of lending money to you. However, your credit score is not set in stone: each lender or agency will score you slightly differently, and there are plenty of factors that will raise or lower your credit score. It's not the only factor in whether or not you will be successful in applying for a loan of any kind, but it is a major one, and improving your credit score will improve your chances of accessing finance. But how can you improve your score?
Use direct debits to pay on time
Essentially, the best way to improve your credit score is to prove that you can settle your debts in a timely fashion. With that in mind, the best way to improve your credit score is to make sure you always pay your bills on time. The easiest way to do this is to arrange a direct debit for your outgoings instead of adding bills to the "to pay" pile and sorting them out later. Regularly paying your bills on time, or meeting repayment schedules, shows potential lenders that you can be trusted to repay them – as such, you're a lower lending risk.
Take control of your own finances
Joint bank accounts are a necessity for many households, but they can lead to lower credit ratings if you're not careful. It may sound a bit selfish, but a partner's poor credit score can have a knock on effect on yours and, if you're trying to apply for loans or a credit card for your own personal use, it may be best to separate your finances. Joint bills for couples are also a way to be financially linked – it may be worth transferring the account into just one partner's name.
Register to vote
While being registered to vote won't actually affect your credit score, it will improve your access to finance. When lenders or agencies run credit checks against applications for loans, they will also assess the application's legitimacy. So, even if you have a good credit score, if anything about the application looks a bit dodgy then the "fraud score" will be substantially higher. If you're on the electoral register, then it's a clear sign you're a real person, and your application is less likely to be a fraudster's trick. Being on the register can also help speed up ID checks as part of the credit check process.
Stick with your bank
Similar to registering to vote, showing financial stability is a good way to prove that you are less of a risk to lend to – if you're not prone to cutting and running when it comes to your finances, then you're a much more welcoming prospect for lenders. Changing bank accounts to seek out better deals may benefit in the short term, but the long-term effects of staying put can be helpful when it comes to securing credit.
Borrow a little, pay off a lot
It's a common misconception that never having had a credit card or loan means you automatically have a bad credit score. Paying your bills and not going overdrawn can often be enough to prove you're a safe bet for lenders – you don't have to unnecessarily plunge yourself into debt and then climb back out just to prove you can. However, borrowing and then repaying is a good way to boost your score from good to great – especially if you make larger repayments than the minimum possible.
Don't take your rating on faith
Last, but not least, don't assume that everything lenders think they know about you is correct. Get hold of your credit report from one of the UK's main agencies – usually Experian, Call Credit or Equifax. All agencies are required by law to provide one for as little as £2, although many offer free trials.
Once you have a copy, pick through it carefully – if there's anything false or that you feel is unfair, such as a default, then dispute it! If it's there in error, then you can get it fixed. Alternatively, you can complain to the lender involved to try and get it removed. Remember, your credit score is not frozen forever and, if you make the effort, it can be improved.