7 Easy Ways To Improve Your Credit Score, According To UK Experts
Credit scores are the thing people often avoid looking at for years until the day they really need to know whether they're likely to secure that mortgage, car finance, or even phone contract. But if you've never borrowed money or know your score is likely to be on the lower end of the scale, there are ways to boost it. Here's seven simple strategies to improve your credit score right now.
"Your credit score is not a metric that shows how good you are at money [or] life," says Tom Martin, money expert at smart saving app Chip. "It really just shows one thing: how likely are you to pay back any money you’ve borrowed."
Most experts agree that you should check your score and full credit report via the three main agencies: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. It's worth checking all three as they "hold different information on you," notes Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at investment service Hargreaves Lansdown.
Make sure there are no mistakes such as "outstanding debts you know you've paid" Coles says. If there are any, the agency can correct them. But, she explains, "if a lender unfairly told them to add the missed payment to your report, you’ll need to write to the lender, explain why it’s unfair, and ask for it to be removed. If you can’t get them to remove it, you can add a notice of correction to explain mitigating factors."
If your score could still be better, try some of the following methods to improve it in a matter of months.
1. Get on the electoral register
Sounds strange, but not registering to vote can affect your credit score more than you think. Martin describes it as a "surprisingly well-kept secret." Essentially, he says, it's "a way for a credit referencing agency to see that you’re a real person and not a scam artist operating out of a basement on the other side of the world."
Top tip: If you reside at more than one address (due to being a student, for example) then register at the address your bank is registered to.
2. Close unused cards
If you're a person who has opened multiple credit cards or store credit accounts and never used them, you may want to consider closing them. "Too much available credit worries firms because, if you maxed them all out, you could be facing unmanageable debts," explains Coles.
But, she warns, "don’t cancel so many that you have to go up to the limit on others, because any maxed-out cards will ring alarm bells too."
3. Get your name on some paperwork
Another way of proving your identity is to have your name on some official paperwork. This can be something as simple as household bills, says Martin. There's an added benefit to this too as "some bills will also be recorded as a history of meeting payments."
If you rent, you can still use these kind of data to up your score. To do so, simply opt into Experian's Rental Exchange scheme.
4. Start to borrow money
It's simple. "If you’ve never borrowed money, there’s no evidence you can repay your debts," states Martin. The easiest way to show some evidence is to get a credit card and pay everything back on time.
A credit rebuild card can be a good route to go down, notes personal finance blogger, Can't Swing A Cat's Jenni Hill. "It’s important to note that the interest rates on these cards are often shockingly high," she says. "You must keep up with repayments or your credit score will get worse and you’ll have to pay interest."
Keep the balance small, advises financial wellbeing expert, Jason Butler, and "direct some of your regular spending (like groceries) to the card, [ensuring] you repay it in full every month." It'll take around six months of this routine to build up a credit history. Try not to max out cards, he adds, because lenders don't like it. Instead, "reduce the utilisations of your credit cards to be below 70%."
5. Be wary of financial links to other people
Many people rarely link their association with others to their credit score, ut partners and even housemates can have an impact.
"You’ll be linked to someone if you have joint products like mortgages or current accounts," says Coles. If your real-life relationship has come to an end, there's a simple way to sever the financial relationship. "Go onto the credit reference agency websites and fill in a notice of dissociation," Coles states, adding: "You will need to have closed the relevant accounts and paid off joint debts."
It's also worth thinking long and hard before opening a joint bank account with flatmates. "This can be a recipe for disaster," notes Hill. "Not only is there no guarantee your housemates will actually deposit the amount they need into the shared account on time, their financial behaviour can affect your credit score both now and in the future."
On the topic of renting, it's worth checking "that your address hasn't had a previous resident [with] a poor credit history," says Butler. If there is, "make sure that the credit agency knows this person is nothing to do with you."
6. Stop applying for credit
If you're applying for credit from numerous companies in a short space of time, lenders may view you as a higher risk. They "think you're either building up lots of debt, or you're desperate," according to Coles. "The same goes for payday loans and credit card cash advances. These appear on your record and are usually a sign that you don’t manage your money sensibly, so some companies won’t lend to anyone with a history of this kind of borrowing."
So how do you know if you're likely to be accepted without actually applying? Well, says Butler, try using an eligibility checker. These carry out "soft" searches, which don't end up on your credit file.
7. Keep up to date on payments
The last, and perhaps most important, thing to remember is to keep up with any and all payments. "This includes everything from your mortgage to your credit card, current accounts, utility, and mobile phone bills," says Coles.
Even overdrafts count, says InStash's financial advisor Lauren Stark. People often mistake this as "cashflow" rather than a debt, diminishing their credit score when they don't pay it off each month.
Jo Ward, digital product director at Thinkmoney, advises setting up direct debits to pay bills. "Because suppliers take money directly from your bank account, you're less likely to miss important payments," she states.
So there you have it. Seven simple steps you can take from today to make that credit rating as good as it can be.