If you've been turned down for credit or are concerned that your credit history could stop you getting a credit card or loan, don't despair. There are steps you can take to improve your creditworthiness.
There's no single, universal credit rating or score that a lender will use when assessing your application. The scores you may have seen advertised by credit reference agencies, such as Experian, are simply indicators of your creditworthiness, based on the information contained in your credit report.
Each lender has its own system for deciding whether or not to lend to you - meaning you could be rejected by one, but accepted by another.
Check your credit report and correct mistakes
Remember to check your credit report at least once a year to make sure that the information it contains is correct.
If you notice any mistakes, it's important to get them rectified as soon as possible to ensure they don't have any adverse effect on future credit applications.
You can do this by contacting the company that provided the incorrect information or the credit reference agency itself, which will investigate on your behalf.
Register to vote
If you're not on the electoral roll, you could find it very difficult to get credit.
That's because lenders use this to confirm that you live at the address given in your application.
You can also register to vote online at any time through the Register to vote website.
Make your rental payments count
Private tenants who pay their rent on time can now use these payments to improve their credit score, thanks to a free scheme called the Rental Exchange.
The tenant pays rent to a third party called Credit Ladder, which in turn passes it onto the landlord or letting agent, and then lets Experian know whether the payment has been made on time.
The data will be visible to lenders by the end of 2017, but you can start getting your payments recorded on your file now.
Think before applying for new credit
Making an application for credit will leave a 'footprint' on your credit file, which will be visible to other lenders.
If you've recently been turned down for credit, it's unwise to apply for another credit card or loan immediately, as multiple applications over a short period of time may suggest to lenders that you are in financial difficulty.
This could ultimately make them reluctant to let you borrow.
It's worth asking lenders to perform a 'quotation search' rather than a credit search when you are looking to get new credit.
This should give you an idea of whether your application would be accepted, as well as what interest rate you'd be charged, but won't be visible to other lenders on your credit report.
Quotation searches are most frequently used for mortgage applications, particularly if you're shopping around for the best deal.
Applying for credit immediately after moving house or changing your job might affect your success rate.
Lenders like to see evidence of stability, so not having been in the same job or at the same address for long could count against you.
Keep your credit usage low
Lenders will look not only at your outstanding balances, but at how much credit you have available.
If you have low available credit, prospective lenders may see this as a sign that you’re not successfully managing your finances.
Aim to keep your balance comfortably below 50% of your agreed limit
End financial associations with ex-partners
Living with or being married to someone who has a bad credit rating won't affect yours – but taking out a joint financial product with them will.
Opening a joint current account, for example, will create a 'financial association' between you and the other account holder.
Lenders may look at their credit report as well as yours when assessing your application, as their circumstances could affect your ability to make repayments.
If you have ever jointly held a financial product with someone you no longer have a relationship with, ask all three credit reference agencies to break this link so that your ex-partner's financial situation doesn't have any impact on credit applications you make in the future.
Build a good credit history
Showing that you can repay on time and stay within the credit limit you've been given will help convince lenders you are a responsible borrower.
If you've never borrowed money before, you'll find it difficult to get access to loans and credit cards – especially those with the cheapest rates.
One solution is to take out a credit card specifically designed to help you build - or rebuild - your credit history.
Because these 'credit builder' cards are aimed at higher risk customers, APRs tend to be very high, so you should never use them to borrow.
Instead, pay your balance off in full and on time every month to avoid incurring any interest, and to build up a record of successfully managing credit.
Find out more: Compare credit cards for bad credit
Coronavirus: will deferring my payments affect my credit score?
On 31 March, the credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion confirmed that homeowners will have their credit scores protected when they take out a mortgage payment holiday.
The agencies have collectively introduced a special measure called an ’emergency payment freeze’. This will mean credit scores will be maintained at their current level for the duration of the payment holiday.
This formal announcement follows guidance from the trade body UK Finance earlier in March, which stated mortgage providers must ‘make every effort’ to ensure payment holidays don’t damage credit files.
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