A good credit score. What does it mean?

15th August 2018

By Kurt Wood

A good credit score can go a long way in life. It’s the building blocks of your financial health. It can:

    •    Help you get loans
    •    Find the right mortgage
    •    Choose the right credit card
    •    Help you get a mobile phone contract

We’re here to give you a little more insight into the wonderful world of credit scores and what it means for you and your money. 

Credit score basics

First things first, what is a credit score?

Well, a credit score shows potential lenders and creditors how likely you are to make repayments on what you owe. It tells them if you are a high or low-risk borrower.

A credit score is one of the main things a lender will look at when deciding to offer you credit.

Credit score agencies

There are 3 major UK Credit Reference Agencies:

    1.    Experian
    2.    Equifax
    3.    Callcredit

All of which give you a credit score ranking of:

    •    Very good
    •    Good
    •    Fair
    •    Poor

It’s always best to try an aim for the top two, very good and good, rankings, as this will give you a better chance of getting a mortgage or a loan.  

However, when applying for credit, your credit provider won’t just look at your credit score. So, having a “very good” or “good” credit score doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the credit you want. Lenders will take other factors into account, such as:

    •    Any outstanding debt
    •    Previous missed payments
    •    Bankruptcy proceedings
    •    County Court Judgments (CCJs)

How are credit scores worked out?

Your credit score is based on your credit history. A credit check will look at:
    •    The amount you’ve borrowed
    •    Your ability to repay on time
    •    The number of loans or creditors you have, and
    •    Other things that could impact your ‘lendability’.

Your credit score is reviewed regularly, usually every 30 days, by one of the 3 UK Credit Reference Agencies.

What does a good credit score look like?

Different credit reference agencies use different scoring systems. So a good score with one might not always be a good score with another. For example:

Experian

    •    961 - 999 = excellent
    •    881 - 960 = good
    •    721 - 880 = fair
    •    561 - 720 = poor
    •    0 - 560 = very poor

Equifax

    •    466 - 700 = excellent  
    •    420 - 465 = good
    •    380 - 419 = fair
    •    280 - 379 = poor
    •    0 - 279 = very poor

Callcredit

    •    5 = excellent  
    •    4 = good
    •    3 = fair
    •    2 = poor
    •    1 = very poor  

CallCredit scores from 0 to 710, and also uses a rating from 1 to 5.

The average credit score

As a rule of thumb, aim to be above average for your credit score. You can achieve this by:

    •    Borrowing responsibly, and

    •    Making repayments on time

Here are the current average scores for all 3 UK Credit Reference Agencies:  

    •    Experian – 700+  

    •    Equifax – 380  

    •    CallCredit – 611  

But remember that the average score isn’t necessarily a good one. 

How credit checks affect your credit score?

When applying for credit, the lender runs a credit check. This is when a company looks at your credit report to understand your financial behaviour.

A credit check leaves a ‘footprint’ on your file. If the check is a ‘qualification credit check’ or ‘soft search’, it will only be visible to you and not the lenders.

If the credit check is an ‘application credit check’ or ‘hard search’ the lenders will be able to see where you’ve applied, which will leave a mark on your credit report.

So, if you’re searching for credit, it’s worth checking whether lenders use a soft or hard search.

How long does your footprint last for?

A footprint lasts for 12 months on your files. So it’s best to try not to rack up rejections.

The good news is that checking your credit score doesn’t affect your score at all.

If a lender wants to run a credit check, they’ll be able to view your credit history as well as other relevant information. Your credit file will show them:  

- Your name and date of birth  

- Current and previous addresses (confirmed by the electoral roll)

- Open loan, credit card and mortgage accounts (and their balances)  

- Closed loan, credit card and mortgage accounts (in the last six years)

- Applications and searches made in the previous 12-months

- Overdrafts with your bank

- Missed payments  

- Utilities

- County Court Judgements (CCJs) or bankruptcies  

- Associated individuals (this might be a partner or housemates)

What to do if you have no credit history?

If you’ve never been responsible for paying your own bills you might not have a credit history. There’s a big difference between ‘no credit history’ and ‘bad credit history’, but no credit history definitely won’t help your credit applications.  

If you have little or no history, it’s time to start building some. You can build your credit history by:
    •    Taking out a credit card. If used responsibly, it’s a great way to boost your score
    •    Credit builder cards. Paying off your balance on time can do great things for your credit rating

How do I check my credit score online?

If you want to find out whether you have a good credit score, you can check online via one of the three credit reference agencies in the UK.  

Experian 

The Experian website offers unlimited access to your credit score for free. Although, you can also plump for a paid version, where you’ll get;
    •    Personalised tips
    •    A full credit report
    •    Anti-fraud web monitoring.

You can also buy a one-off “statutory report”, which shows you what a lender would see if they carried out a hard check. 

Equifax  

Sites such as ClearScore provide free credit score checking for Equifax. Or you can go directly to the Equifax website for a paid membership. This gives you:
    •    Unlimited access
    •    Reports
    •    Alerts and protection against online fraud

CallCredit 

Callcredit offers free credit reports for life via Noddle. You can also pay to get more detailed reporting.

At giffgaff, we offer a free credit report, which runs off information from Callcredit.

Ways to improve your credit score 

You can’t fix a bad credit score overnight, but there are a few things you can do that will make a difference quickly: 

- Register on the electoral roll  

- Pay bills on time  

- Pay down existing balances  

- Consolidate your debts  

- Use credit cards responsibly

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