Spring cleaning your credit score: tips for improvement

By Iona Bain
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Worried you might not land the credit you need? Try these 10 ideas for improving your credit score, and your chances

1. REQUEST YOUR FILE

If you have been refused credit, the lender is legally obliged to tell you why. That is down to the Data Protection Act. You can find out which of the credit reference agencies the lender has used to run the rule over you.  Then you should apply to that agency for sight of your current credit file. You have a legal right to do that, for free or a nominal fee. There are three main bureaus - Equifax, Experian and Callcredit – as well as third-party agencies that use their data.    

 

2. CHECK YOUR FILE 

The file won’t show you a credit score – that is decided by each lender according to their own secret formulas. But it will show you your history of managing credit and bank accounts, paying bills, and repaying loans. There could be a mistake in there, which might have been critical in the lender’s decision. If there is, tell the agency immediately. You can ask for a note to be put on the file.  All credit applications will stay on the file for a year, black marks against you for six years.  

 

3. BE ALERT FOR FRAUD 

If there is any entry in your file that you don’t understand, it could have been someone else trying to open an account in your name. Look out for unfamiliar or suspicious entries, such as a credit application you didn’t make, a sudden bulge in your debt, an account that you don’t remember opening. These are the tell-tale signs of the plague of identity fraud, and you should contact the relevant lender straight away. They may want to see evidence that it really wasn’t you operating that account.

4. GET YOUR PAYMENTS IN ORDER

If you have made any late payments, or missed them altogether, on any of your accounts or household bills, including your mobile phone contract for instance, your credit file will find you out . Use it as a wake-up call. Whoever thought paying bills could be a positive? Here's a article explaining how.  You must keep your overdraft within the agreed limit, and your credit card repayments on time and at the minimum level, as a starter.  To improve your score, try and do a bit better than that.  Lenders will want to see how much of your credit. Did you also know that your monthly rent payments can finally contribute to your credit rating. To know more click here.

 

5. STRENGTHEN YOUR PERSONAL PROFILE

Do you vote in elections, and if not, are you on the electoral roll? For potential lenders, this confirms your name against a fixed address. If you cannot vote, because you are a foreign national for instance, you can reassure a potential lender by sending the credit reference agencies proof of your residency and asking them to attach a note to your file to verify this. Lenders like to see a landline phone number.  To improve your score, you could ideally send evidence of settled periods at the same address, and in employment, with increases in pay. There are actually a number of things you can do right now to help increase all your scores across the board. Read these tips here.

 

6. LOOSEN UNHELPFUL TIES

If you are in a relationship and have any sort of joint account, your partner’s financial history will be connected to yours.  That can be helpful if you have a current account or apply for a joint mortgage as it may open up different rates to you. But it does mean that if they become an ex-partner, their credit history will still be tied to yours, and that could be unhelpful. Any joint accounts with friends or partners will continue to impact your score and ability to obtain credit, until they are properly separated. You will also need to tell the credit agencies when your circumstances have changed.

7. TIDY UP YOUR ACCOUNTS

If you have any old credit cards, store cards, or accounts that you don't use or need anymore, close them down.  Potential lenders will not know whether or not you intend to use them in future, and the amount of theoretical credit you have on these accounts will be totted up and could prevent you from being granted any fresh credit.  Cutting up cards is not enough, you must contact the lender and tell them. Here's where you go if you want to know more about how credit card affect your score. 

 

8. SPACE OUT YOUR APPLICATIONS

The scattergun approach will count against you. Unlike shopping around for quotes on a purchase, every time you make a loan application it shows up your file. Lenders don’t like to see a rash of entries in a short space of time, because it looks as though you are in trouble.   So if you need to keep trying, space out your applications.  Do not apply for any product unless it appears to be exactly what you need at that time and, ideally, find out first whether you are likely to be accepted.

 

9. SMART SEARCHING

Now you have taken all the right steps to improve your credit score, it’s time to find out whether it is working.  Use websites or providers which offer a ‘soft’ or ‘smart’ search to give a provisional yes or no on whether you would qualify for a particular product.  A yes cannot guarantee that you will get through, but a no is a clear warning that you are not quite there yet.  Either way, the inquiry does not show up as an application for credit in the way that a formal or ‘hard’ search does.

 

10. CONSIDER A CREDIT-BUILDER

One way to start moving your score in the right direction is to apply for a credit-builder card.  These are the cards that advertise what looks like a sky-high interest rate, but encourage those with a poor credit history to apply. The trick is to use the card to show that you can stay within a limit and make the minimum payments on time.  The better your record on repaying even small amounts of credit, the more likely you are to improve your credit score. It is very important that you are confident you can manage these cards though, so don’t apply without taking time to get yourself organised first. They have a nasty bite if you misjudge a payment. 

Top takeaway

If you work through this list you will have done wonders to improve your credit score, and the way lenders view you.

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