How to improve your credit score

Your credit score plays a big role in getting credit and accessing good deals and low rates. Here’s what you can do to improve your credit score.

Why is my credit score important?

Your credit score is what credit lenders use to assess the risk of lending to you. It shows them how well you have managed credit in the past, and a good score indicates that you’re responsible with your money.

That means the higher your score, the more likely it is that you’ll be accepted for things like:

  • Mortgages

  • Credit cards

  • Personal loans

  • Car finance

  • Overdrafts

A good credit score can also mean being offered better mortgage deals because it indicates you’re a low-risk applicant. It could also mean you’re able to borrow more and for longer terms. 

Having a poor credit score can make it difficult or expensive to get a mortgage and can even impact your ability to get a job in certain sectors like finance or law.

How can I improve my credit score?

If you have a poor credit score or just want to make sure your credit rating is as strong as possible, there are plenty of things you can do. Here’s how you can improve your credit score.

Not being on the electoral roll can harm your credit score. If you have moved recently, make sure you register to vote as soon as you can - don’t wait to receive a reminder. 

Registering to vote acts as proof of address and is one of the main ways lenders confirm your identity. It can also indicate that you’re settled and responsible, so it’s well worth ensuring you’re on the electoral register.

Your credit score is largely based on your record of borrowing and managing money. So, if you haven’t borrowed money before, there will be no evidence that you’ve managed credit agreements in the past.

A good place to start is opening a bank account if you don’t have one or getting a credit building credit card. These usually come with high interest rates and low credit limits, so it’s important you pay the balance off every month.

It’s important that you check your credit report regularly to keep track of your score and to ensure there isn’t any inaccurate information on it.

Errors on your report, like incorrect personal details, accounts that don’t belong to you or applications you haven’t made, can negatively impact your score. 

It’s worth checking your details with each credit reference agency, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, because different lenders use different agencies, and your information could be different for each.

 Try to check your reports at least once a year or before you make a credit application. If you spot any errors on your credit report, let the agency know as soon as possible so they can get them fixed.

Staying on top of your repayments is crucial. Missing a payment or even making payments late can significantly impact your credit score. 

Remember that your credit score acts as a way of indicating how well you manage your finances. Therefore, it makes sense that missed payments will hurt your record and reduce your score.

Any defaults made in the last 12 months will have the biggest impact, so you may need to wait at least a year before applying for new credit if you miss a payment.

If you are struggling to keep up with your payments, it is always worth speaking to your lender. They may be able to restructure your repayments to help you avoid defaulting and damaging your credit record.

Every time you apply for credit, it leaves a mark on your credit report. If you have too many of these in a short period of time, it can hurt your score because it suggests to lenders that you’re desperate to borrow.

Try to only make one credit application at a time and use eligibility checkers where available. These can show you how likely you are to get a product by using a ‘soft check’ on your report, which doesn’t leave a mark.

If you have credit cards, try to use only some of your credit limit. Your credit utilisation is the percentage of your limit that you spend; for example, if you have a credit limit of £5,000 and spend £1,000, your credit utilisation is 20%.

Keeping your credit utilisation low shows potential lenders that you can sensibly manage your money and aren’t stretched every month. It’s a good idea to try to keep your credit utilisation below 50%, if possible, to boost your credit score.

Lenders like stability; one of the main ways they measure this is by how often you change your address. Several address changes over a short period of time can have a negative impact on your credit score as it indicates instability.

Try to keep your details the same between applications. The longer you have the same address, phone number, employer and bank details, the more stable and reliable it can make you appear.

This isn’t always possible, and changes are inevitable over time. However, if you know a big life change is coming, like moving house, try to make any credit applications before it happens.

Having access to lots of credit can be an issue and damage your score. If you have any open credit or store cards you no longer use, it may be worth clearing the balance and closing them down.

However, keeping some long-standing cards open can be beneficial, provided you are making the payments and the credit utilisation is low. This can show you are good at managing credit, but if you have lots of unused cards, it can be a red flag to lenders.

How to correct errors in your credit report

If you identify any errors or inaccuracies on your credit report, the first thing to do is contact the lender the error is associated with. For example, if you see a defaulted payment with a credit card provider you don’t agree with, call them to dispute it.

You will need to provide evidence that it is an error, for example, a bank statement showing the payment being made. If the credit card company accepts and rectifies the mistake, it will be passed on to the credit reference agency and updated on your report.

If the lender does not accept the error, you can raise a dispute with the credit agency. You can do this by requesting a Notice of Correction be added to your report.

This is a short statement you can use to explain the error in your report. Any lender will see the Notice of Correction and can consider the information when making their decision. Equifax and TransUnion allow you to request this online, but you must contact Experian directly to request one.

How long does it take to improve my credit score?

Boosting your credit score isn’t something that will happen overnight, but if you start doing the right things and make improvements, you should see it go up gradually.

It can take up to six months to see any real change, as it can take time for the new information to reach the credit agencies. Doing things like making your payments on time is a long-term strategy that will benefit your score gradually over time.

Ultimately, how long it will take to see improvements will depend on how bad your credit is and what changes you need to make to improve it.

Our expert says…

“Your credit history has a big influence on your ability to get a mortgage or other credit products. It can even help you get a better deal, so it’s worth ensuring your score is as high as possible.

Having bad credit, on the other hand, can make getting a mortgage difficult and expensive. However, if you start doing the right things and follow these tips, you’ll see your credit score improve over time.”

Jon Bone \ CeMAP-qualified

How to improve your credit score FAQs

It’s a good idea to check your credit reports at least once a year to keep track of your score and make sure no errors need to be corrected.

You can check your credit report as often as you like, and it won’t affect your score. By checking your report annually, you can see any changes to your score and take action to improve it if it’s gone down.

It’s also a good idea to check your reports before making a major credit application, like a mortgage. This means you can make sure it is in good shape before the lender does their check.

Each credit rating agency uses a different scoring system, but here’s what you’ll need from each to have a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ credit score:

  • Experian: 881-999

  • Equifax: 420-700

  • TransUnion: 604-710

If you have a good score with one agency, chances are your score will be good with the other two. However, it is worth checking your score with each agency because different lenders use different agencies when checking your credit history.

Having a County Court Judgement (CCJ) can seriously affect your credit score and your ability to get a mortgage. However, you can take steps to reduce its impact.

If you have a CCJ issued against you, you can get it removed from your report if you pay off the outstanding debt within one month of the judgement being issued.

Otherwise, the judgement will remain on your credit report for six years, even if you pay it off sooner. However, the impact will reduce over time, especially if you manage any subsequent credit well.

Each of the three credit agencies has a different method, but to work out your credit score, they will all look at your:

  • Personal information

  • Credit history

  • Current credit agreements

  • Past behaviour with lenders

  • Public records

Agencies use scoring models and complex calculations to turn this information into a score.

Credit agencies securely hold your credit report, and companies can only access it if they have a legitimate reason. Companies and organisations that can access your report include:

  • Mortgage lenders - when you apply for a mortgage

  • Banks - when you apply for a new bank account

  • Credit lenders - when you apply for a loan or credit card

  • Employers - when you apply for a job, usually in the financial sector

  • Energy and utility companies - when you set up a new account

  • Letting agents or landlords - when you're applying to rent a property

  • Insurance companies - when you apply for a new policy to verify your identity

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